October 21, 2011 § 2 Comments
On July 27, 2011, my wife and I were blessed beyond measure with the birth of our son, Nathaniel. Since he is our first child, he came with him a host of new challenges and decisions, one of which was the inevitable question of baptism. My wife (who grew up Lutheran) and I (who grew up quasi-Mennonite) grew up with different practices and beliefs about baptism, and we’ve had many conversations about it. These discussions were entirely academic until our son came into the world and placed us immediately in the concrete moment of decision. There was no getting around this one; this is definitely a case of where “not to act is to act.” So, to get to the point, we have decided to baptize him, and I’d like to explain how I got there.
Unfortunately there was no way to make this decision without departing from one side of the family—in this case, mine. In the end, I think there is sufficient scriptural ambiguity to warrant different practices and still call it “one baptism” (Eph. 4:5). But we did have to decide one way or the other, and this is how I came to it. (Rebekah has her own reasons, and she would explain it differently; but just because she grew up as a paedobaptist doesn’t mean she hasn’t thought this question through.) What follows is not intended to be an apologetic—I’m not really interested in convincing anyone to change their view. All I wanted was to articulate a clear answer to the question, “Why do you want to baptize your son?”
As we discussed this issue, I kept coming back to one question: What is baptism? Why an infant ought to be granted or denied baptism depends on the answer to this first question. Interestingly, I also found that I couldn’t explore the theology of baptism without simultaneously exploring my understanding of the gospel as a whole. All in all, it became a rather large question.
So what is baptism? The New Testament speaks of baptism in different ways. I won’t go into all of them, but I’ll try touch on the pertinent ones for this particular discussion.
Union with Christ
Paul speaks about baptism in terms of our union with Christ, that in baptism, we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection. So what do we mean by union with Christ? One important passage, though not explicitly baptismal, is found in 2 Corinthians:
For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. . . . So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! (5:14-15, 17)
This passage is actually rather staggering. If Christ died for all people, then all people have died. Can we ignore the universal scope of Christ’s death? Paul links Christ’s death with a death all people die, and then connects this with being remade as a new creation in Christ. Though Paul does not speak here of baptism, he speaks of being united to Christ in his death and raised to new life in his resurrection. This is already done, and, in some mysterious way, all humanity has already been implicated in the death and resurrection of Christ. This is also made quite clear in Romans 5:
If, because of the one man’s [Adam’s] trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (5:17-21).
Paul is presenting Christ as the “New Adam.” The “Old Adam” was the head of the old humanity, but Christ is now the head of the new humanity (cf. Col. 1:15-20). Once again, Paul speaks of all this as something both that has already been accomplished in Christ, and that somehow includes all humanity. Union with Christ in this sense is about participating in something that God has done in Christ for all.
Now, what does all this have to do with baptism? We see where Paul takes this, immediately following the passage quoted above:
What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin (6:1-7).
Considering Paul’s language in Romans 5, it is not surprising that someone might take it to mean that the all-inclusive, already-completed work of Christ means “Well, Christ has done it all, I guess I can keep on sinning!” Paul anticipates this. The interesting thing is how he frames his answer. He never says, “Well, Christ has done a lot for you, but you still need to meet him halfway.” No, he meant what he said in Romans 5, and Christ’s work really is all-encompassing. The issue for Paul is that we have been baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, so if we keep on sinning we become a contradiction in terms. We are living out of sync with our baptismal identity. For Paul, the we have actually become new people; our “old self was crucified with Christ.” That is who we are. But we are only this by merit of what Christ has already done. Christ has died, was buried, and has been raised; we are baptized into all of this.
Baptism is about being united to Christ, incorporated into Christ, participating in what Christ has already accomplished, and recieving a new identity in him. This also comes out in Paul’s letter to the Colossians: “When you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead” (2:12). Baptism, to quote T. F. Torrance, is “the sacrament of what Christ has done on our behalf when he incorporated himself into our humanity and acted in our place and in our name before God” (Atonement, 192). Baptism is first and foremost about what God has done for us in Christ.
Incorporated into Christ’s Body
It seems only logical that if we are all baptized into union with Christ, then we are also baptized into communion with one another. We all have the same Lord; we are all part of the new humanity of Christ. Nowhere is this better expressed than in Ephesians 4:4-6: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” Paul has just urged them to “make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (v. 3). But he doesn’t say, “Make yourself united,” but rather to maintain the unity that has already been established. All the things that are “one” are connected. All these things are “one” because they ultimately come from the one God. There are not many baptisms, but one baptism. There are not many bodies, but one body. Because there are not many lords, but one Lord. When we are incorporated into Christ in our baptism, like it or not, we are incorporated into Christ’s body, the church. When the church is divided, we are not living as the baptized community of faith. We are living as though we are many bodies, but there is only one body. We are baptized into that one body of the one God, Father, Son, and Spirit.
Paul addresses this when he writes the Corinthian church, “Each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Cor. 1:12-13). These questions are obviously rhetorical. Christ has not been divided. Paul was not the one crucified. The people were not baptized in the name of Paul. People are segregating themselves, claiming allegiance to this or that Christian leader. But Paul’s point is that these divisions are incongruous with their baptism: they were baptized in the name of Christ, and Christ will not be divided. Later in the letter he spells it out more clearly: “For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13).
Baptism, therefore, is an unavoidably communal event. We can’t be baptized and remain outside of the church community. We cannot be united to Christ and remain separate from Christ’s body. To quote Torrance again, “baptism is the sacrament of what Christ has done within the covenant community and is therefore the sacrament of inclusion into the covenant community” (Atonement, 192).
Response to the Gospel
The New Testament also portrays baptism as the human response to believing the gospel message. It is our “Yes” to God’s “Yes” to us. This comes out most clearly in Acts, as the early church spreads throughout Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (1:8). We frequently find the sequence: belief, repentance, baptism. Perhaps the most complete and concise statement about baptism in this regard appears immediately after Peter’s Pentecost sermon:
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” (Acts 2:37-39).
Peter had just finished preaching to the people, and they evidently believed what they heard. They have a very practical question: “What should we do?” What is the proper response to hearing and believing the gospel? Peter answers, “Repent and be baptized.” He then identifies two blessings that come with it: the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Finally, he adds that “the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”
This last line is particularly instructive here. That the promise is “for your children” and “for all who are far away” indicates the two basic ways that the church will grow, namely, through evangelism and procreation. This is really no different than how Judaism was sustained and spread. A foreigner could choose to join the Jewish covenant community, but there was never any question of whether a Jewish baby would join that community.
“You,” “your children,” and “all who are far away” are really subcategories of “everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” This emphasizes, yet again, that God is the primary actor. Even in a passage that closely links baptism with a conscious response to faith in the gospel, the response is still something that follows God’s call. Indeed, there is always a certain amount of passivity in baptism. Note that no one never baptizes themselves; a person receives baptism (“Repent and be baptized!”). This passivity is more pronounced in the discussion of union with Christ and incorporation into the body, but even here it is not absent.
This still leaves the question of the relation between faith and baptism. Must baptism be preceded by a conscious confession of faith for it to be valid? This is usually the first question in the baptism debate, but I don’t think it can properly be answered without working through some of the larger questions of baptism, as I have attempted here. What I have written so far is the result of how I worked through the issues. I might be wrong, but I don’t think anything I’ve said so far necessitates one baptismal practice over the other. I’d like to think that a paedobaptist and a credobaptist alike could affirm what I’ve already said while remaining theologically consistent with their own practice. Nevertheless, we did eventually have to make a decision, and so I think I can finally address the question of infant baptism in particular.
Scripture is clear that there is a necessary connection between faith and baptism, but it never spells out exactly how the two are related. Here are some considerations—not arguments why you should practice infant baptism, but the line of thinking that brought me there.
• Baptism is primarily about what God has done for us in Christ. Our faith and trust in Jesus always comes secondary—both qualitatively and chronologically—to the faithfulness of Jesus himself. Often the arguments against infant baptism are based on subverting this insight. Believers’ baptism can certainly be practiced in a way that acknowledges the primacy of God’s action, but infant baptism seems like a more natural expression of it.
• Baptism ought never to be divorced from the church. We are never baptized into a “me and Jesus” relationship. We are baptized into Christ, and therefore we are incorporated into the body of Christ. We cannot have one without the other. It seems reasonable to treat those whom we have incorporated into the body like they have also been incorporated into Christ himself. I don’t think we ever really treat “children of the church” as if they are somehow excluded from our church fellowship, so to me it makes sense to treat them as if they are also included in Christ. This strongly suggests baptism.
• Baptism ought never to be divorced from discipleship (Matt 28:19). This is closely tied to its relationship to the church. Anyone baptized into the community of faith should be raised and instructed in the faith. All members of the body will falter at one time or another, and we all depend on the support of the body for encouragement and help. Yes, we have a responsibility as baptized believers to follow Christ. But we also have a responsibility as “baptist believers” to help our fellow Christians grow in faith. When the church can no longer be a community of discipleship, it should seriously question its role as a “community of baptizers.” Any baptismal practice, therefore, should presuppose the practice of discipleship. The faith confessed by the believer in baptism expresses the candidate’s intention to be discipled; the faith confessed by the parents in infant baptism expresses the community’s intention to disciple the child.
• The church grows either by gaining converts or growing families. The baptismal “test cases” we see in the New Testament deal exclusively with the former. We should therefore be careful how much weight we put on the apostolic practice recorded in Acts. We should, however, make reference to Acts as a control over our theology of baptism. If we come up with a view of baptism that allows for infants but contradicts what we see in Acts, we are in trouble. I believe the theology of baptism outlined above, however, makes room both for infant baptism and for what we see in Acts.
It probably would have been possible to think through all these points in terms of believers’ baptism, but that is not where I ended up. In the end, whatever our practice is, we need to practice it responsibly. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “Infant baptism always threatens to separate baptism from faith, just as adult baptism always threatens to destroy the baptismal grace founded in Christ’s word alone” (“The Question of Baptism,” in DBWE 16, 567). Wherever we land on this issue, we cannot think that by adopting the “right” practice we are somehow in the clear. Baptism is the beginning of a lifelong journey of discipleship and faith.
My apologies for that somewhat lengthy and slightly technical discussion. I’d like to bring it all together now and answer the question suggested by the title of this post: Why do I want to baptize my son?
I want to baptize my son because I strongly believe that Christ has died for him, and, what’s more, Christ has been raised for him too. God has already acted graciously and decisively in Christ on Nathaniel’s behalf. I want Nathaniel to receive his identity from Christ and to be united to Christ in his death and resurrection, being freed from sin and being made new.
I want to baptize my son because he has been born into the community of the baptized. He will be raised in the faith in the community of faith. From his very earliest days, I want him to be included in the covenant community. He may have a lot of growing to do, but he is still part of the body of Christ!
I want to baptize my son because I believe that his “Yes” to God can only be made because of God’s “Yes” to him in Christ. Nathaniel may waver in faith throughout his life (don’t we all?); yet even if we are faithless, still God will remain faithful. I want Nathaniel’s faith to be built on the unshakable faithfulness of Christ.
I want to baptize my son: “For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” (Gal. 3:26-27)
January 30, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Here is the second précis of Bonhoeffer’s Ethics, as part of an ongoing project of mine. I had it ready to post on Friday, but I lost internet access for the weekend. I hope to post these regularly on Fridays, as my designated thesis day.
In an age when ethical problems have become ever more concrete and polarized [that is, Nazi Germany], ethical theories seem most superfluous. All the old approaches have failed: reason, fanaticism, conscience, duty, freedom, and private virtuousness are either blind to evil, ineffective against it, or forced to join its ranks. We know and experience ethical reality not by an ethical system but by standing in the reality of God in simplicity and wisdom. The simple person knows only God’s truth and thus has the freedom of an undivided heart; the wise person sees the reality of the world for what it is and thus has the knowledge of truth. A person is simultaneously simple and wise who looks with an undivided gaze at both God and the world in the person of Jesus Christ.
The Christian ethic can proceed only from the reconciliation of the world with God in the human Jesus Christ. In Christ, God’s love has met and overcome reality, not abstractly but by a real human life really lived. Becoming a real human being, God has once and for all said Yes to humanity, and has willed that we too become real human beings. The love of our fellow human beings must be grounded in God’s becoming human, and when we despise humanity we despise what God has loved. Indeed, Jesus is not a human being but the human being, and so what has happened to him has happened to us. Christ is the judged human being, and in him all humanity is judged. Yet the crucified is also the risen—God has raised to new life the true human in whom is raised the new humanity. The human being, accepted, judged, and awakened to new life by God—this is Jesus Christ, this is the whole of humanity in Christ, this is us. The form of Jesus Christ alone reconciles the world with God. From this form proceeds all the formation of a world reconciled with God.
Ethics as formation is thus concerned with the one form that has overcome the world—the form of Christ, God become human, crucified and risen. The process of formation is not about trying to become like Jesus or follow his teachings, but about Christ himself transforming us into his form. Being human means being conformed to the one who became human. God changes God’s form into human form so human beings can become human before God. Formation means in the first place Jesus Christ taking form in the church. The church is the human being who has become human. Yet the church is not a “model society” but the form of Christ from which the whole world must be addressed. Formation to the form of Christ includes two things: (1) that the form of Christ remains the same—not in the abstract, but concretely as the one Christ uniquely is as the crucified and risen reconciler; (2) and that the form of the real human being is preserved in Christ’s unique form, that the real human being receives the form of Christ. Ethics as formation is possible only on the basis of Christ’s form present in Christ’s church. The church is where Jesus Christ is taking form among us here and now and where it is proclaimed.
January 28, 2011 § 1 Comment
I stumbled on this interview yesterday (via another blog I cannot now recall) with David Torrance, the youngest brother of Thomas and James. He speaks on pastoral ministry, the person and work of Christ, freedom, grace, and forgiveness. It’s about half an hour long, and is very much worth the time. It’s available on video, audio, or as a written transcript.
If I ever become a pastor, I want to be like him.
December 16, 2010 § 1 Comment
As a way to round off some of the discussions about preaching that have been going on here lately, I thought I’d post my (provisional) theology of preaching. I’ve tried to keep it as positive and constructive as possible. It was originally written as my final paper for homiletics class, and I’ve left it relatively unchanged. So here it is, the fruit of a few months of thought on the subject and several hours of writing. I’ll probably rework it as time goes on, but this is where I am right now.
Preaching is the word of God proclaimed, an event wherein God’s word is mediated through the words of a sermon. As an act of divine communication, it has its origin in Christ, its basis in Holy Scripture, its efficacy in the work of the Holy Spirit, its context in the church, and its end in doxology. As an act of human communication, it is a theological address delivered by an individual within a community.
1. The Essence of Preaching
1.1. Preaching as the Word of God
The first epistle to the Thessalonians describes the nature of Christian proclamation in rather startling terms: “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” (2:13). Preaching is not merely an explanation of God’s word or an application of God’s word but it is God’s word. The Second Helvetic Confession directly affirms this: “The preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God.” A natural question arises: how can the words of a preacher also be the word of God?
A word is only the word of God if God himself speaks it. We must therefore distinguish between the sermon itself and the act of preaching it. The sermon is an address that has been composed on the basis of scripture and prayer; preaching is the event in which the Holy Spirit mediates God’s word to the church-community through the words of the sermon. Preaching is thus the word of God proclaimed because through it God speaks to the hearts and minds of his people.
1.2. Preaching as Mediation
When we speak of the knowledge of God as coming by God’s word, we understand that it is never immediate, but that it is always mediated. We cannot know God as God knows himself, we can only know God as he has chosen to reveal himself. This means that the knowledge of God must be mediated to human beings in a way human beings can understand. Calvin describes this as accommodation, that God accommodates himself to our limits as an adult does for a child. God has done this and continues to do this through his word, incarnate, written, and proclaimed. It is with the latter that we are currently concerned, yet it will become clear that the proclamation of God’s word is based upon and cannot be separated from the written or incarnate word.
We can say that the preaching of the word of God is the word of God only if we say that it is actually God who speaks through the preacher. This is why the preacher is a mediator, because God speaks his word through the words of the sermon. The preacher cannot manufacture mediation by crafting a particular type of sermon. It is always God and God alone who reveals himself. As Barth says: “God will make himself heard; he it is who speaks, not man. The preacher only has to announce the fact that God is about to speak.”
2. The Nature of Preaching
2.1. Origin in Christ
The preaching of the word of God is the word of God. This means that it has its origin in the first and last word of God: Jesus Christ. Christ is the origin, norm, and purpose of Christian proclamation. We speak because God first spoke to us, and God has spoken most clearly and definitively in his Son (Heb 1:1-2). Preaching has its origin in Christ like rivers have their origin in the ocean: the clouds that rise from the ocean waters rain on the land and fill the rivers that eventually flow back into the ocean. All comes from Christ and flows back into Christ. The preacher’s primary task is not to expound in detail the original meaning of a text, nor to give the congregation five easy steps to a biblical lifestyle, nor to wax eloquent about this or that doctrine; the preacher’s primary task is to preach Christ crucified and risen, to preach that Jesus is Lord. Bonhoeffer is worth quoting at length here:
The proclaimed word has its origin in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. It neither originates from a truth once perceived nor from personal experience. It is not the reproduction of a specific set of feelings. Nor is the word of the sermon the outward form for the substance which lies behind it. The proclaimed word is the incarnate Christ himself. . . . The preached Christ is both the Historical One and the Present One. . . . He is the access to the historical Jesus. Therefore the proclaimed word is not a medium of expression for something else, something which lies behind it, but rather it is the Christ himself walking through his congregation as the Word.
To speak of proclamation as Christ himself is simply to accept that the New Testament means what it says when it calls Jesus the Word. Where once the meaning of “the word of God” might have been confounded into ideas of language, now we understand that the Word is a person, Jesus Christ. The act of proclamation is participation the person of Christ. The event of proclamation—the movement of the Spirit from pulpit to pew—is the presence of Christ himself.
2.2. Basis in Holy Scripture
If preaching has its origin in Christ, then it has its basis in Holy Scripture. The Bible can be called the word of God because it testifies to the one who is the Word. The whole Bible is normative for Christian belief and practice—and therefore for Christian proclamation—because by the inspiration and illumination of the Holy Spirit it bears faithful and sufficient witness to the gospel of Christ. Like John the Baptist, the Bible is not itself the light, but it bears witness to the light (cf. Jn 1:8). We can rightly call Holy Scripture the word of God because it has been and is continually taken up by the Holy Spirit, who breathes life into its words. As the word of God written it is the basis for the word of God proclaimed. This is why sermons should have as their basis a certain biblical text. Yet regardless of which text it is, whether from the New Testament or the Old, no matter what its so-called “original meaning” might be, the sermon should always seek Christ in God’s written word. The field of biblical studies might treat historical or linguistic analyses as legitimate ends in themselves, but the congregation must hear the gospel proclaimed.
2.3. Efficacy in the Work of the Holy Spirit
The preacher works hard in the study and in the pulpit, but if the word of God is to be preached it must be God who preaches it. Therefore the efficacy of preaching is in the work of the Holy Spirit alone. Sound biblical exegesis, though indispensable for sermon preparation, will not guarantee that God will speak. Careful organization and delivery, though crucial for the congregation’s comprehension, will not guarantee that people will hear God’s word. Specific contemporary application, though useful for exhortation, will not guarantee that lives will be changed. Unless God says it, it is not the word of God. We cannot preach words and hope that God will add his voice to ours; we must believe that God will speak and add our voice to his. The Holy Spirit, not effective preaching, is the real point of contact between the text and the congregation.
If the goal of preaching is to produce faith and obedience, then it must ultimately be the work of the Holy Spirit. We do not stand above the word as its master but beneath it as its servant. Preaching, though the medium of God’s word, is blind to the event of proclamation. God’s word is not a force to be subdued and controlled but a person to be trusted and obeyed. If the preacher has managed to change minds by sheer force of eloquence, then proclamation has not occurred; it has only been a motivational talk. However, if preaching has resulted in changed hearts despite bumbling words and stuttering voices, then surely the Holy Spirit has spoken.
2.4. Context in the Church
The Bible and preaching are the word of God, but this is true only in the context of the church. This is because all human words, written or spoken, are a dead letter apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. This occurs both at the moment of conception—in ancient words or in the pastor’s study—and at the moment of delivery—during the reading of scripture or at its proclamation. To say that preaching is God’s word only in the context of the church is simply to say that preaching cannot be divorced from Christ. For Christ is the Lord of the church, and his Spirit dwells among his people. Where Christ is preached and believed in the community of faith, there Christ also is. And where Christ is, there is the church. Bonhoeffer puts it this way: “I preach, because the church is there—and I preach, that the church might be there. Church preaches to church.”
This also emphasizes an important characteristic of preaching, namely that it is a communal effort. It is not merely the preacher but the hearers. It is not merely the hearers but the preacher. Preaching must occur within the “being-saved community.” A sermon is not proclamation until it is preached. The actual event of preaching occurs in the church-community when the Spirit takes up the words of the sermon and so uses the preacher as a mediator of the word in the community of the Word.
2.5. End in Doxology
The chief end of preaching is to effect faith and obedience. Paul says that “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3). These three words, “Jesus is Lord,” are the most concise expression of Christian faith. When the Holy Spirit speaks to the hearts and minds of the church-community through the words of a sermon, the result is a faith that can confess these three words. This confession must lead to obedience, for no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” without saying, “Jesus is my Lord.” Faith and obedience are inseparable: “Only the obedient believe, and only the believer obeys.” This unity of faith and obedience is the expression of doxology. Doxology is the worship of God in spirit and truth, and it is the primary end of preaching. The appropriate response after a sermon is not, “That was interesting,” or, “That was challenging,” but, “Praise be to you, O Christ!” A life of doxology is a life of faith and obedience, a life that believes Jesus is Lord and lives with Jesus as its Lord. Indeed, preaching itself is an act of doxology. The compulsion to proclaim that Jesus is Lord exists only in the one who has already confessed it and continues to confess it. The Holy Spirit, who has worked to produce faith in the preacher and who will work through the words of the preacher to produce faith in the community, is the same Spirit who asks, “Whom shall I send?” The preacher is the one who has responded, “Here I am; send me!” (Is 6:8).
3. The Practice of Preaching
Formally, preaching is unavoidably a form of public address, an act of communication. To say that God speaks his word through the words of the preacher is not to say that the preacher can simply say any words and hope that God will speak through them. (Of course, God can and does choose to speak through whatever means he sees fit, but just because God can speak through a bad sermon does not mean that this is what we should endeavor to produce.) Preachers are both passive and active, passive because they have no control over if and how God’s word will be spoken to the people, but active because their task is one of faithful and obedient proclamation of the gospel.
As an act of communication, preaching is practical theology. This is because theology is the human attempt to communicate intelligibly about the word of God, and a sermon is the attempt to proclaim the word of God. Theology gives us the language; preaching is the conversation. All theological reflection must therefore be normed by event of proclamation. Theology leads directly into preaching, which leads directly into faith and practice. When theology goes bad, preaching goes bad. Any theology worth doing is worth preaching, so when theology cannot be preached, it should be seriously questioned.
As public address, preaching takes the form of an individual speaking in a community. It is not an abstract set of propositions delivered to an abstract group of people; it is a real human person communicating with other human persons. Oration and rhetoric are for the detached individual speaking at a group; honesty and humility are for the person who speaks within a community as one of them. Preaching a sermon in context means knowing the context both of the biblical text and of the ones who will hear it. A sermon attempts to communicate God’s word in a specific community at a certain time. That is why you can never really preach the same sermon twice. God’s word remains the same, but the world in which it is preached is in constant flux. As soon as the preacher becomes detached from the community, preaching will suffer. If we believe that God speaks through his word—incarnate, written, and proclaimed—then we must hold that God speaks through his word to us today. Therefore, preaching can never be divorced from the people who hear it.
Thus far, we have asserted that preaching is God’s word proclaimed precisely because it is God who proclaims it. Yet the readiness of God to speak should never produce laziness in the preacher. On the contrary, the fact that God might speak should terrify the preacher all the more. For if God indeed is ready to speak through a sermon, the preacher should fear lest God’s word be drowned out with the noise of human words. In the end, the words of the sermon should seek to be transparent to the word of God; the voice of the preacher should endeavor to be silent before the voice of God. Far from making preaching an easy task, the reality of God’s word means that preaching will be an unavoidably rigorous exercise. Perhaps the best advice is this: “Pray for the presence of the Holy Spirit—and then work like stink.”
*1* All scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version of the Bible.
*2* The Second Helvetic Confession, ch. 1. It explains as follows: “Wherefore when this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very Word of God is proclaimed, and received by the faithful; and that neither any other Word of God is to be invented nor is to be expected from heaven: and that now the Word itself which is preached is to be regarded, not the minister that preaches; for even if he be evil and a sinner, nevertheless the Word of God remains still true and good” (http://www.ccel.org/creeds/helvetic.htm, accessed 30 November 2010).
*3* A lengthy discussion of this assertion can be found in Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, vol. II, part 1, ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance, trans. T. H. L. Parker, W. B. Johnston, Harold Knight, and J. L. M. Haire (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2010), 9ff.
*4* For example: “The truths of revelation are so high as to exceed our comprehension; but, at the same time, the Holy Spirit has accommodated them so far to our capacity, as to render all scripture profitable for instruction” (John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, trans. James Anderson, vol. 2, Calvin’s Commentaries 500th Anniversary Edition 5 [Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009], 239).
*5* This is the well-known trifold expression of the Word of God as described at great length in Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, vol. I, part 2, ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance, trans. G. T. Thomson and Harold Knight (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2010).
*6* On preaching as mediation, see David Buttrick, Homiletic: Moves and Structures (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987), 251ff.
*7* Karl Barth, Prayer and Preaching (London: SCM, 1964), 66.
*8* Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The Proclaimed Word,” in Clyde E. Fant, ed. and trans., Bonhoeffer: Worldly Preaching (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1975), 126 (emphasis added).
*9* So, Bonhoeffer: “The word, to be specific, is present in the church-community as the word of scripture and of preaching—essentially as the latter. There is no intrinsic difference between these two forms, for they remain a human word so long as they are not inspired by the Spirit of the church-community. The Spirit is not linked with the word of the Bible like a substance. Thus effective preaching is possible only within the sanctorum communio” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sanctorum Communio: A Theological Study of the Sociology of the Church, ed. Clifford J. Green, trans. Reinhard Krauss and Nancy Lukens, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works 1, Wayne Whitson Floyd Jr., general ed. [Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998], 232).
*10* So, Calvin: “Wherever we see the word of God sincerely preached and heard, wherever we see the sacraments administered according to the institution of Christ, there we cannot have any doubt that the church of God has some existence” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge [Peabody: Hendrickson, 2008], 678 [4.1.9]).
*11* Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The Causality and Finality of Preaching,” in Bonhoeffer: Worldly Preaching, 138.
*13* Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, ed. Geffrey B. Kelly and John D. Godsey, trans. Barbara Green and Reinhard Krauss, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works 4 (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2001), 68.
*14* Haddon Robinson appropriately quotes an old adage: “The text without the context is a pretext” (Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages, 2nd edition [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001], 59).
*15* Kim Fabricius, Propositions on Christian Theology: A Pilgrim Walks the Plank (Durham, NC: Carolina Academic, 2008), 147.
October 27, 2010 § 2 Comments
My theology professor, Rev. Dr. Tim Perry, has recently delivered the first of five lectures on the topic of “Bringing Atheism to Church.” His first lecture focuses on the ways in which religion is increasingly permeating the public sphere. It is a good talk, very interesting and thought-provoking. It makes me look forward to the rest of his lectures. Please listen to it when you have an hour to spare.
August 23, 2010 § 4 Comments
Have you ever overheard someone praying for you? Or, even if you’ve never managed to eavesdrop on someone’s prayers, what about when you’re praying together with someone, and they pray for you? It tells you something. If you listen to what they pray for, you learn a few things. You learn what they really want for you, but more specifically, you learn what they think you need God’s help with. If someone prays for your healing, it means both that they want you to be healed and that they really believe that God can heal you. In John 17, we overhear the prayers of Jesus. He prays for himself, for his disciples, and finally, for us. Here we have a great privilege: we get to hear both what Jesus wants for us his church and what he knows only God can do for us.
As Christians in the church, we often use the language of “Jesus wants us to _______.” Jesus wants us to do more outreach. Jesus wants us to be nicer. Jesus wants us to pray more deeply. Jesus wants us to read the Bible more often. Jesus wants us to tell more people about him. Even if we don’t use these exact words, do we not ultimately trace our perception of what we “ought” to do back to the will of Jesus? To this, I would say “Amen!” There is no “ought” apart from the will of God. However, this all hinges on one question: what is the will of God? What does Jesus actually want for our life as his church? Do our statements of “Jesus wants us to _______” actually correspond to the reality of what Jesus wants for us?
Fortunately, we’re not left alone to speculate on these matters. John 17 contains Jesus’ longest recorded prayer in the Bible, in which we overhear his will for the church not in the form of a command, but in the form of a prayer.
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 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 may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
John 17 is often referred to as the high-priestly prayer of Jesus. In ancient Israel, the High Priest wore a breastplate around his neck whenever he entered the Holy Place. This breastplate had twelve precious stones embedded in it, one for each tribe of Israel. Exodus 28:29 explains: “whenever Aaron enters the Holy Place, he will bear the names of the sons of Israel over his heart on the breastpiece of decision as a continuing memorial before the Lord.” In other words, when the High Priest came before God in the tabernacle (and later in the Temple), he did not come for himself alone, but he brought all Israel with him. He represented all the people to God. Jesus’ prayer here is of the same sort. He does not come to the Father alone, but he bears all our names on his heart, presenting us to his Father. When Jesus says that he prays “for those who will believe” it means not just that his prayer is about us, but also that it is on our behalf. It’s the difference between saying “I’m looking for you” during a game of hide-and-seek, and saying “I’m looking for you” while helping a blind person cross the street. Jesus prays for us and for us.
This is how Jesus begins his prayer (v. 21): “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 may believe that you have sent me.” If this sermon can be divided into three main points, they are all found in this verse: Jesus’ prayer for his church is (1) that we would be united; (2) that our unity would have its origin and life in the unity of the Father and the Son; and (3) that this unity would show the world who Jesus is. If I were to condense these three points into a simple sentence it would be this: We are one in Christ for others. We are one. We are one in Christ. We are one in Christ for others.
1. We Are One
Unity. This is what our Lord Jesus prays for his church. That we would all be one. Remember the question I asked a minute ago, what is Jesus’ desire for the church-community? It is answered here: that we would all be one. Of all the things he might have asked for us, I find it striking that he prays for our unity.
Remember, this comes in the form of a prayer, not a command. Jesus doesn’t tell us, “Try your hardest to be united.” Instead he prays to his Father, “May they all be one.” This is an important distinction, because if Jesus really prays that we would all be one, if the Father really hears the prayers of his Son, then we must acknowledge that our unity is not a goal, but a reality. It is not something we have to strive for, but something that is certainly already true. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote these words in his book Life Together: “Christian community is not an ideal we have to realize, but rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate” (38). What he means by this is that our oneness as believers is not something we can create in and of ourselves; it is something that has already been accomplished in Christ. So we’re left not with the responsibility to unite ourselves, but with the freedom to participate in the unity that already exists. In Christ, our unity is already a fact.
But, you might (very correctly) say, “Joel, that sounds nice and all, but let’s face it. Have you ever actually seen the church? There seems to be far more division than unity. If we are really one in Christ, why don’t we see that taking place concretely in the world?” Of course, you’d be completely right to raise that objection. If we are actually one in Christ, why are we so divided in the church? From the New Testament times until now, the church has been prone to divide. In addition to the countless minor divisions in the church throughout its entire history, there have been some major dividing lines drawn that seem impossible to erase even today. In 1054, there was a great divide between the Western and the Eastern church that was provoked because the Western church had inserted a single word into the creed. This division still exists between the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox church. In the 1500s, the time of the Reformation, another great divide occurred when men like Martin Luther began to speak out against corruption in the church. They had hoped to heal the church of its corruption, but it only resulted in more splits. We’re all descendants of the Reformation: we’re Protestants. Protesting is who we are! Dividing is part of our heritage! It’s pretty common these days that when someone doesn’t agree with some aspect of their church – the music, the preaching, the people, the location – they just go to a different one. So, is the church really characterized by unity? How can we say that our unity is already a reality when we see far more divisions than oneness?
Well, quite frankly, I don’t know. I don’t know how it is that we really are one in Christ and yet live as if it weren’t so. Along these same lines, I don’t know how I can believe that Christ has freed me from sin and yet keep on sinning. I don’t know how we can say that Christ’s kingdom has come and yet fail to live under his rule. I just don’t know. So, for these kinds of questions, I take as a model the words of the desperate father in Mark 9:24: “I believe; help my unbelief!” Similarly, as the church we pray, “We are one; help our divisions!”
When we live as one – brothers and sisters united in Christ – we are manifesting what is certainly already true. But, when we divide and create schisms between one another, we are manifesting our ability to live in discord with reality.This is important, because if we think of our unity as something that does not yet exist, then we’re left to try to unite ourselves, to create bonds of unity for ourselves and of ourselves. This can be done in various ways, but it’s best accomplished by coming up with something in common that you can all share – be it a goal, an interest, a need, or even an enemy. This is how clubs and organizations are united. But when we apply these methods to the church, it becomes apparent that they create unity by exclusion. If a common goal is the foundation of our unity, then we must exclude those who think we should be spending our time on other pursuits. If a common enemy is what unites us, then not only must we exclude the enemy from our fellowship, but also any who count our enemy as their friend. If this is how we unite ourselves, then people can only be one with us if they become like us, taking on our interest, or our goal, or our enemy as their own. This makes us the judges of our community, because it is based on standards that we have set. Quite soon, we must become the accusers of our community, because as its judges, we have to enforce unity by excluding all that might dissolve it. It is not long before we become the destroyers of our community, because as its judges and accusers, we have had to create divisions in order to retain the vision and the dream of oneness – like digging moat around a great fortress. When we have as the basis of our unity anything less than Christ, then either we cannot sustain our community, or we have to cut ourselves off from all other communities.
Christ, and nothing less, is the source and strength and centre of our unity. How different it is when we recognize that we don’t have to create unity out of nothing, but that it has already been established in Christ. We don’t need to fear diversity in the church, because we know it is not a threat to the greater oneness we have in Christ. When people enter our community with different goals, interests, and needs, we can welcome them, knowing that, long ago, we have already been joined by the unity of the Spirit. This is all about living according to reality, as opposed to making reality for ourselves. This goes against the grain in a culture that tells us that we have to make ourselves; that we can and must construct our own identity by doing certain things; that we can and do become whomever we make ourselves to be. But who we are in Jesus is never something we can do simply by making the right decisions, and our identity that comes from our new life in Christ is never something we could construct for ourselves. The world says, “Go make something of yourself.” Christ says, “Become what you are.”
If it seems strange to talk like this, the best analogy I can think of is marriage. I am married. As any of you who are or have been married know, when you get married, you are married. You speak your vows, you exchange rings, you get a certificate, and it’s done. You don’t marry your spouse everyday, because the reality is that you are already married. But living that reality is something else altogether. It’s surprisingly easy to live as if you are not really married. It’s easy to treat your spouse as if the two of you are not really one. But you don’t make yourself married by acting married; you act married because you are married. In a way, it is because you are one that you constantly need to live as if you were one. In the same way, our unity as brothers and sisters in Christ is an actual reality, but it is all too easy to live as if it were not true. But it is because we are united that we live as if we were united. We are one in Christ; may we become what we are.
2. We Are One in Christ
What is Jesus’ will for his church? Unity, yes. But not just any kind of unity. Christ’s prayer is not simply that we would all be one – as we’ve already seen, we cannot make ourselves united. Jesus prays three times for a very specific and astounding sort of oneness for his followers: “just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, may they also be in us” (v. 21); and in the next verse: “may they be one even as we are one” (v. 22); and again in the next verse: “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one” (v. 23). Here we have a very profound and important truth: the unity of the church is an expression and a reverberation of the unity between the Father and the Son. Our oneness has its origin in the eternal oneness of God.
This is the kind of mystery that is almost too wonderful. We are invited into the very fellowship of God. We are caught up in the very life of the Trinity. The further this sinks into our hearts and minds the further we must sink to our knees in praise and wonder. I won’t pretend to understand exactly what it all means, but I think there are a few things we can say.
(1) This means that we can understand something about our oneness with God and about our oneness with each other by looking at the oneness of the Father and the Son. When Jesus prays, “may they be one even as we are one,” we can actually know something about it, because the Gospels actually describe the ways in which the Father and the Son are perfectly one in both love and will. Throughout the Gospels it is quite clear that the Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father; they are one in their love for one another. It is the Father who says of Jesus, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17). The Gospel of John says that “The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into his hand” (3:35). Later in John, Jesus says, “I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father” (14:31). This love that is eternally alive between the Father and the Son overflows to us, so that we too are loved by God and that we too might love God. And it is only in and from God’s eternal love that we can really love one another. Our love for one another comes from God’s love for us. “We love because he first loved us.”
Another way the Father and the Son are one is in will. “Abba, Father,” Jesus says, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36). Jesus also says, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (Jn 5:19). And again, “I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me” (Jn 8:28). Nothing that Jesus does is apart from his Father’s will. We are also united to God in this way. And because we are together united in will to God, we are also one with each other – the community who collectively seeks the will of God. So in Christ, we are made one in love and in will with God, and because we are all one with God, we are also one with each other.
Next time you’re reading in the Gospels, I encourage you to pay attention to the ways in which Jesus shows himself to be perfectly one with his Father, and then think about what this means for our oneness as the church.
(2) Our oneness as the church originates in Christ alone. We are one in Christ. When I look at you, I see my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. It is first and foremost that we are both in Christ that we are related as brothers and sisters. Our relation to one another comes from the fact that we are all adopted into the same family – that is what makes us brothers and sisters. Our unity as the church comes from the fact that we are all united to one and the same Lord. The apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor 10:17). In this, he understands that the believers are one because they all partake in the same thing, namely, the bread of Christ. We are one with each other because we are all one with Christ.
(3) Having said that, we see that we cannot separate our union with Christ from our fellowship with the church. Jesus doesn’t treat our oneness with God and our oneness with each other as separate events. They are inextricably connected. The movement between an individual and God always occurs within the larger context of the movement between the community and God. 1 John 1:3 says, “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” John is calling people into the community of believers, not into individual religious experience. It is only as a part of this community that we have fellowship with God. Put in another way, we cannot have a relationship with God and expect to remain isolated from other people who also have a relationship with God. By having a relationship with the same God, we also have a relationship with one another. We are one with Christ not alone, but together.
The unity of the church is an expression and a reverberation of the unity between the Father and the Son. Here’s another example from marriage that will hopefully make this a bit clearer. If you have kids, you probably want them to love one another. You can tell them to love each other, but the best way they’ll learn to do it is by seeing how you love them, and even how you love each other as husband and wife. The unity of the husband and wife thus becomes the foundation of unity for the whole family. It’s the same in the workplace. When the leaders are united in purpose, it’s much more likely that their employees will be of one mind as well. In the same way, God is One, though he is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and it is his oneness that is the foundation for our oneness. Our unity as the church is not based on a common interest or goal or enemy or need, but it is based in the eternal unity of the Father and the Son.
3. We Are One in Christ for Others
What is Jesus’ will for his church? Unity – and not just any sort of unity, but unity in the Father and the Son, which comes from and resembles their unity. But why unity? and why this sort of unity? Let’s read the first part of Jesus’ prayer for us again: “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 may believe that you have sent me. [. . .] 23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” Here is the effect of our unity: that the world may know.
We’ve already talked about how the eternal unity of the Father and the Son is the basis for our unity with each other. We now see that it is also the basis for our testimony to the world. Here we see the remarkable way that missions is at the very heart of the church: unity in Christ, the very foundation of our life in the church, is also the very foundation of our mission to the world. We can’t have one without the other. For me, it’s usually been when I’m most frustrated with the church that I want to go out into the world, and it’s often when I’m most enamored with the church that I want to lock its doors and keep the world out. But both of these perspectives don’t line up with Jesus’ prayer: may they be one, yes; but so that the world may know; and may the world know, yes, but only by seeing their mutual love and unity.
The question is, what does our internal unity in the church have to do with our external mission to the world? Bear in mind that this prayer of Jesus takes place at the end a long portion of speeches and conversations between Jesus and his disciples, which take place right before Jesus’ betrayal and crucifixion (chs. 13-17). In these chapters, Jesus is preparing his disciples for his departure. I think this helps us see more clearly why missions is on Jesus’ mind. He is about to complete the mission his Father gave him; now he is preparing his disciples for their mission. They are about to change from being disciples to being apostles, from being followers to being sent out. With this in mind, Jesus prays for them (v. 11a): “I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world.” I think this gives us a clue how to understand what our unity as the church has to do with our mission to the world. “I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world.” Somehow, the presence of the apostles makes up for the absence of Jesus. This is because their mission is an extension of his mission. They bear witness to his mission, and in so doing, they bear witness to who he is. Yet, Christ would have that they not merely say who he is, but that they would be who he is. Not that they become him, but that their new identity in Christ would bear faithful witness to the identity of Christ. In other words, Jesus’ followers manifest his presence in the world after he is gone. Jesus is praying for his disciples here, but the same line of thought carries through into his prayer for us his church. “I in them and you in me, may they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” He is no longer in the world, but we are in the world. Because Jesus sent the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are one with the Father and the Son to the point where the church is the presence of Christ on earth to each other and to the world. We are one in Christ for others. It is our mutual love and unity, in and from the love and unity of the Father and the Son, which manifests the presence of Christ to the world. Colossians says that “[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God” (1:15). Similarly (though not identically) the church is the image of Christ. It is the body of Christ in the world. Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” Similarly (though not identically) whoever has seen the church has seen the Son. Here’s a question to ponder this week: do you think the world can know who Jesus is by looking at his church?
There are a few important things to note here. (1) There are certain times when we are told to preach the gospel in words, but here Jesus’ concern is that we would actually be witnesses. Not just that the truth of who Jesus is would come out of our mouths, but that it would take root in our very being as the church. In other words, our being, our identity, and our life in Christ is not to be distinct from the message we bring. How can we say that God is love if we do not love? How can we say that all are one in Christ if we are divided? How can we say “Jesus is Lord,” if Jesus is not our Lord?
(2) Jesus speaks as if our life together as the church would show the world who he is, yet this assumes that the church is actually in the world. He is no longer in the world, but we are in the world. We cannot lock our doors, or even stay within them, and hope that our common fellowship and mutual love will proclaim Christ to anyone but ourselves. So, we must understand that our oneness in Christ occurs in the context of lives lived in the world. We are one in Christ for others, because we are one in Christ in and among the world.
(3) If our unity is the fuel for evangelism, then we must consider: what is our message to the world? Look at verse 3: “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” Jesus relates eternal life with knowledge of God in him. This means that evangelism is about helping people know who Jesus is that they might believe on him as their Lord and saviour. I used to be regularly plagued with guilt because I felt like I didn’t share my faith in Jesus with enough people. I never knew why I was afraid to do it, but I always was. I wonder though, what gospel was I afraid to share? Regardless of what I was taught, I think that deep down I thought that the starting point for evangelism was my ability to convince someone else that they were a sinner. But the gospel is not first and foremost about how good or bad we are, or even about who we are, but about who Christ is. Only after we’ve shown who Jesus is can someone understand who they are in Christ. Only after we have spoken of Christ can we begin to speak of ourselves. The starting point for the gospel is not “you’re a sinner!” but “Jesus is Lord!” How can we proclaim this message in truth if Jesus is not in truth our Lord?
This is why Christ connects our unity with our mission. Only as we are united in Christ, expressed in mutual love for one another, do we show the world who Jesus is. So Jesus rightly says, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (Jn 13:35), We sometimes sing the song that says, “and they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” I would add to this, “and they’ll know who Christ is by our love.”
Let’s return to the question I asked at the beginning: what is Jesus’ will for his church? “May they be one, even as we are one, that the world may know that you sent me.” We are one; and we are one in Christ; and we are one in Christ for others. May we become what we are!
August 4, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Just when you thought that all the theologians worth listening to were long dead, along comes Nathan Kerr. Here he is in an interview with ABC, based on his 2009 book, Christ, History, and Apocalyptic: The Politics of Christian Mission. It’s especially interesting to me as I am preparing a sermon on John 17:20-26, which is turning out to be geared towards missions more than I had first expected. The interview is just over 35 minutes long, and well worth the time. I haven’t read his book, but after hearing this interview, I’m planning to keep my eyes open for a copy.