Monthly Archives: April 2007

 

Apr

29

2007

Trevin Wax|6:45 am CT

May All Worship You!

O God and Father of all, whom the whole heavens adore:
Let the whole earth also worship You,
all nations obey You,
all tongues confess and bless You,
and men and women everywhere love You and serve You in peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

- from the Book of Common Prayer

 
 

Apr

28

2007

Trevin Wax|6:40 pm CT

In Honor of Robert Webber: An Interview

webber-robert-3.jpgRobert Webber, a man who encouraged Christians to reclaim the Great Tradition and to learn from the ancient church in matters of worship, died on Friday after a serious illness.

In honor of Dr. Webber and his tireless efforts to call evangelicals back to a God-centered worship, I am posting an interview I had with Dr. Webber last year.

Dr. Robert Webber was one of evangelicalism’s foremost authorities on worship renewal. He founded the Institute of Worship Studies in 1995 and spent the last ten years conducting seminars across the United States. He authored more than 40 books, including Worship Old and New, Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail, the Ancient-Future Series, and The Younger Evangelicals.

Dr. Webber did extensive research on the younger generation of evangelicals (of which I am part). So I was thankful that Dr. Webber agreed to answer some questions I had for him after reading many of his works.

Trevin Wax: Who are the younger evangelicals?

Robert Webber: The Younger Evangelicals are characterized by three commitments:
1) To deconstruct the reliance of evangelicalism on modernity, especially the empirical method and on culture, especially its anti-historical attitude, its pragmatism, and narcissism.
2) To return to the sources of the Christian faith, especially in the ancient church, and
3) To build a church in the postmodern culture that reflects the two previous commitments.
However, let me add, there is no uniformity in the movement yet. So my answers to your questions will reflect my own challenge for evangelicals to recover an “Ancient-Future faith.”

Trevin Wax: What are the major distinctives of the younger evangelicals, in comparison to the previous generations?

Robert Webber: My distinctive is that evangelical ministry be re-situated in the divine narrative. Scientific theology based on reason and science has resulted in a compartmentalization of theology from practice. For example, worship separated from the divine story is free to “free float.” In this state it has been shaped by pragmatism and narcissism. Worship returned to the divine narrative “tells and enacts God’s story for the life of the world.”

Trevin Wax: Do you see postmodernism as more of a threat to historic Christianity or as a window of opportunity?

Robert Webber: I see postmodernism as an opportunity and threat. The threat is in the temptation to adapt faith and practice to postmodern philosophy. To do this is what moderns did with science and reason. We don’t want to go there.
The opportunity is that postmodernism culture is so much like that of the early church (Roman era) in pluralism, relativism and pagan religions, that we can look at how the church thought and ministered in that ancient culture as a model for how we minister today in this post Christian, neo-pagan culture.

Trevin Wax: In a postmodern society, how are the younger evangelicals treating the role of apologetics in the task of evangelism?

Robert Webber: Here is a good case in point. In the ancient church, the primary apologetic was the “embodied community.” Tertullian writes that the pagans say “look at how they love each other.” We aren’t there yet, but it is a goal.

Trevin Wax: How can the churches of younger evangelicals become transgenerational, avoiding the trap of generation-isolation in order to effectively minister to all age groups?

Robert Webber: Generational studies and divisions primarily arose out of the “consumer mentality.” It has some value, of course, but it is the “slick trick of marketing.” We need to deconstruct our reliance on marketing and return to the authentic life of the New Testament and early church community.

Trevin Wax: What lies at the heart of younger evangelical worship services? And why is there such a hunger among this generation for liturgy and ritual?

Robert Webber: Traditional (1950′s) worship is based on reason and verbal communication. Today’s young (older too) live in a culture of mystery and symbol. Words remain important, of course, but communication must also be embodied. Today people want to worship with their bodies. Again this was true in the ancient church. The models are there, we don’t need to create new models, but adapt ancient models to our life in this world. Worship that continues to be verbal only, simply does not engage the whole person.

Trevin Wax: What view do younger evangelicals have of the church?

Robert Webber: There is a growing sense that the church is an incarnational continuation of the presence of Christ in and to the world. This lies behind the new Ecumenism in which the barriers with Catholic and orthodox Christians are breaking down.

Trevin Wax: What dangers lie ahead for younger evangelicals? Where are we most likely to become captive to culture?

Robert Webber: The primary danger is to remain disconnected from God’s story and theological reflection on that story. Until we re-situate faith and practice into God’s story through serious study of the activity of the Triune God in creating, becoming incarnate to re-create, and calling the church and its worship to “re-present” and to “live out” God’s action in history moving toward the restoration of all things in the New Heavens and the New Earth, our ministries will continue to be shaped by new forms of pragmatism and narcissism.

 
 

Apr

28

2007

Trevin Wax|6:18 am CT

C.S. Lewis on Happy Religion

cs-lewis.jpgWhich of the religions of the world gives to its followers the greatest happiness? While it lasts, the religion of worshipping oneself is the best.

I have an elderly acquaintance of about eighty, who has lived a life of unbroken selfishness and admiration from the earliest years, and is, more or less, I regret to say, one of the happiest men I know. From the moral point of view, it is very difficult! I am not approaching the question from that angle. As you perhaps know, I haven’t always been a Christian. I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.

- C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock

 
 

Apr

27

2007

Trevin Wax|6:45 am CT

In the Blogosphere…

Check out Michael Spencer’s “Coffee Cup Apologetics” on Why I Am a Christian. Great stuff! And I love how the Resurrection is crucial.

N.T. Wright causes a firestorm within the Reformed world by his critique of the new book Pierced for our Transgressions. Check out Wright’s critique, the authors’ response, and make sure you take a look at my previously posted essay that details at length Wright’s view of penal substitutionary atonement.

The guys at Said at Southern lay down some guidelines for content. The code of conduct is good for just about any serious blog.

Most Visited Post this week at Kingdom People: Don’t Tell Me N.T. Wright Denies Penal Substitution

 
 

Apr

26

2007

Trevin Wax|6:17 am CT

The Mission-Based Youth Group

youth4.jpg

Last week, I posted about the prominence of “attraction-based” models of youth ministry and their common pitfalls. Today, I’m laying out a vision for a different type of youth ministry – one that is mission-based, instead of attraction-based.

A mission-based youth group is entirely different in its outlook. The typical attraction-based model invites young people to church and then implicitly encourages them to ask, “What can this youth group do for us?” A mission-based youth group attends church asking “What can our youth group do for our friends, our schools, our church, and our community?” It is inherently outward-focused. Special events are the method by which we bring outsiders into the church in order to share the Gospel with them, see them saved, and then send them out as teenage missionaries.

Teenagers On Mission
 In our world, everyone asks “What’s in it for me?” and most youth groups ask the same thing, because we have led them to think this way. I want the mindset of the youth group to not be “How can you serve us?” but “How can we serve you?”

When I use the word “mission-based,” I am not only speaking of the youth group as being “missions minded.” Of course, we want the youth to be eager to go on mission trips and share the Gospel. But that is not enough. Teenagers need to begin seeing themselves as God’s missionaries in whatever place He has put them. Every Christian is called to be “on mission” 24 hours a day. I consider all the young people as full-time “ministers,” working to advance the Kingdom of God in their families, jobs, schools, and communities. Being the church Monday through Saturday is just as important as doing church on Sunday.

Counter-cultural and Culture-Redeeming
 The mission-based youth group is simultaneously counter-cultural and culture-redeeming. No segment of society is off-limits when it comes to God’s redemption. We should welcome in the youth with wild hair, tattoos and nose-rings. We should have open arms for the intellectuals, the achievers, the thinkers and the athletes. We should comfort the abused and hurting. We should work to see minorities included and integrated within the youth group. The church is the one place where people that are different in many ways can come together united by the Gospel.

The darkness of the outside world is not something to hide from, boycott, or scold from afar, but is instead the very place the youth are called to extend God’s light. A youth group should be a channel for God’s blessing to flow out to the surrounding community.

Being Jesus for the World
 If I learned anything from my time tutoring middle-school children in failing Kentucky public schools, it is this: there are kids and families in our neighborhoods who are dealing with unspeakable pain and grief. I yearned to send those teens to a youth group that finds its purpose in being the embodiment/incarnation of Jesus Christ for our broken world. 

People who are always focused on their own troubles and problems continually find more troubles and problems to focus on. But those people who look outward and try to meet the needs and relieve the troubles of others find themselves empowered, joyful, and spiritually fulfilled in a way that they never could when they assumed all church ministry existed only for them and their needs. The mission-based model moves youth to a place of greater spiritual vibrancy as they see and meet the needs of the others.

written by Trevin Wax. © 2007 Kingdom People Blog

 
 

Apr

25

2007

Trevin Wax|6:33 am CT

Book Review: The Gospel of Thomas

The Hidden Sayings of JesusCertainly an important find, The Gospel of Thomas has intrigued New Testament scholars and ancient historians since it appeared in the Nag Hammadi collection last century. Marvin Meyer’s translation of Thomas is noteworthy, if mainly for the breadth of scholarship contained in the footnotes.

Pastors and preachers need to read The Gospel of Thomas for themselves. With all the hype about the Gnostic gospels (such as Judas and Thomas), a pastor should have a ready answer to give to the person skeptical about the canonical Gospels’ testimony. Marvin Meyer is unabashedly enthusiastic about this gospel and what information it gives us about the historical Jesus. Harold Bloom gives (correctly) a Gnostic interpretation, which serves as a type of sermon for those who (I guess) believe Christian churches should be using  The Gospel of Thomas from the pulpit.

Meyer’s enthusiasm for Thomas is groundless, mostly for historical reasons. He claims that certain parables of Jesus are found here in their original form, even when they show blatantly Gnostic tampering. Meyer naively assumes that the earlier, canonical Gospels cannot be fully trusted because of their theological assumptions about Jesus, while Thomas has somehow managed to remain untainted by its author’s theology. Meyer wants a Jesus who is a Greek cynic. Thomas appears to give him what he wants: a talking head that doesn’t do anything but sputter strange witty sayings and advocate a secret knowledge that leads to salvation.

The revolutionary Christians who were turning the world upside down in the first centuries weren’t dying for their faith in the Jesus portrayed by Thomas. They were reading Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Perhaps that’s why I picked up this book in a sale rack for $3. Is The Gospel of Thomas worth 3 bucks? Yes, because it tells me more about Gnosticism. But it doesn’t tell me hardly anything about the real Jesus.

written by Trevin Wax  © 2007 Kingdom People blog

 
 

Apr

24

2007

Trevin Wax|9:36 am CT

Don't Tell Me N.T. Wright Denies "Penal Substitution"

wright.jpgN.T. Wright holds the distinction of being one of the few theologians of our day who regularly contradicts and opposes the liberal wing of the academy while simultaneously alienating and perplexing many conservatives within the Reformed tradition. Liberal scholars scoff at his insistence upon Jesus’ literal and physical resurrection; conservative scholars decry his apparent denial of the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement. It is the latter subject that I will deal with in this post.

An Overview of Wright’s Historical Theology

During the 1970′s, Wright’s theology put him squarely in the conservative Reformed camp. One of his earliest works was assisting the compilation of the complete works of John Frith, the early English Reformer. Even today, Wright admires men like J.I. Packer, John Stott, and Michael Green.

Wright’s theological views underwent substantial change in the mid-1980′s as he wrote the Tyndale New Testament commentary for Colossians and Philemon. He claims to have been a “dualist” before this time, one who saw the Gospel as belonging to one sphere and the rest of life belonging to another. Therefore, politics and the world of creation were left untouched by the Gospel, which was primarily about individual salvation to a heavenly afterlife. From this point on, however, as Wright began to study the cosmic implications of the Gospel and articulate his own version of the rising “new perspective” on Paul, he moved away from his Calvinistic roots and launched into historical study of the Gospels.

Wright’s Appeal to Scripture

Ironically, though Wright is labeled by many as being outside the Reformation tradition, Wright himself considers himself more Reformed, due to his insistence upon the Reformation principle of sola scriptura. “I believe that Scripture must be the judge of all our traditions, no matter how venerable,” he stated in a 2004 interview. Wright admires the work of Calvin and Luther, but when he believes their theology to be deficient in light of Scriptural teaching, he does not hesitate to say so.

Wright also claims to be part of the stream of historic Reformation theology. He says that he does not deny what the Reformers sought to affirm, only to “ground in more fully biblical thinking the great underlying truths of the faith.” Regarding substitutionary atonement, Wright offers this plea:

“I am often puzzled and distressed when people question whether I really believe in the substitutionary meaning of Jesus’ death. I would simply say: read my published sermons; read chapter 12 of Jesus and the Victory of God; ask yourself, not whether I go through the hoops of all the words that your tradition has told you we should say, but whether I represent fairly what scripture, and Jesus himself, said about the meaning of his death. That is my only aim.”

Whether or not Wright is correct in his claim to be part of the historic Reformation heritage falls outside the confines of the current essay. Instead, we turn our focus to Wright’s view of the atonement with the following questions in mind:

1. Does Wright affirm that Christ died as an innocent sacrifice in the place of the guilty?

2. Does Wright affirm the substitutionary nature of Christ’s death (i.e. that He died in the place of sinners)?

3. Does Wright affirm that on the cross, Jesus took the wrath of God upon Himself, as a propitiation for human sin?

The Atonement Grounded in History

Central to N.T. Wright’s theology is the importance of historical research. Wright rejects the Enlightenment’s legacy that leaves us with a Christianity filled with moral platitudes and no historical referent. For Wright, the historian’s task is vital to a true understanding of Christianity. The Bible did not fall out of heaven, but was written within a historical context. Knowing that context is crucial to correctly interpreting Scripture. Therefore, in wrestling with Wright’s theology of the atonement, we cannot simply gloss over the historical issues and jump straight to theology. History and theology are intertwined in Wright’s thought, so much so that to separate one from the other ultimately distorts his view.

It is easy to lean to one side or the other when wrestling with history and theology. What do we automatically think of when asked the question, “Why did Jesus die?” If our first answer is “because He upset the religious authorities” or “He was a threat to Rome,” we are leaning towards historical answers. If our first answer resembles “He died to pay for our sins,” or “so that He could defeat the powers of evil,” we are giving theological answers. Wright believes that we should not separate these two sides. Both aspects are essential, and therefore in our study of Jesus, we should seek to marry the historical and theological dimensions of His life, not separate them. If we take out the history of Jesus’ death, we are left with a nonhistorical, abstract transaction between God and humans. If we neglect the theology of Jesus’ death, we are left with a martyr whose life and death bear no real significance for us today. We must seek to hold history and theology together.

N.T. Wright complains that some evangelical presentations of the gospel uproot the message of Jesus from its historical context and transform it into simply an individual’s spiritual experience with God.

“So many popular presentations are far too abstract. They take the whole event out of its context in history, in the story of God and his people, and imagine it simply as a nonhistorical transaction between God and Jesus into which we can somehow be slotted. But the New Testament always insists on seeing the cross as what it was – a horrible and bitter event within history; and it insists that we understand its significance within, not outside, that context.”

The wedding of historical research and theological reflection has broadened Wright’s view of the gospel to include, not only individual salvation in the afterlife, but the present implications that the announcement of Jesus’ lordship have in our world. He claims the Scripture teaches both the personal nature of salvation and the cosmic implications of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

An example of this comes from Wright’s study of the Gospel of Mark. Wright sees three dimensions of the Gospel story in Mark’s account. The largest circle is the political story, replete with characters who are scheming to get rid of Jesus because His message is dangerous and counter-cultural. The second circle is the theological story, that Jesus is dying as the ransom for many and His death represents God’s victory over sin and death. The third circle is the personal implications of the theological story. We are invited to see ourselves as the sinners for whom Christ died. Wright believes that in studying Scripture, we must start with the historical and theological dimensions, before moving to the personal implications. Otherwise, we “screen out the real theology and politics.”

This is, according to Wright, the way the early church would have read the Gospels. Wright insists that most first-century Jews were not so concerned about their security in the afterlife, but were much more focused on God’s purposes for Israel and the world. Wright affirms that first-century Jews did indeed look to find personal salvation, but that their hope “fell within the larger picture of God’s future for the whole nation.” Wright believes we should not impose our Western individualistic mindset on the biblical texts, but let them speak for themselves in their historical context.

This leads Wright to reject what he believes are wrong ways of speaking about the atonement. It is here that Wright upsets many Reformed readers because it appears he is attacking substitutionary atonement. He rejects the Anselmic view of the atonement that makes God out to be a “mediaeval prince who had been publicly shamed.” He believes that Anselm’s view of satisfaction imposes a foreign paradigm upon the biblical narratives. Likewise, he rejects the reduction of penal substitution to God demanding someone suffer “and not caring much who it is.” Wright encourages readers to broaden their view of the atonement to include other themes and not to emphasize solely penal substitution. In typical Wright fashion, he illustrates this with a musical reference: “Substitutionary atonement is a vital element in the gospel. Miss it out, and the music of the gospel is no longer what it should be. But if you only play that note you are in danger of setting up a different harmony altogether.”

Instead of penal substitution, Wright believes that the center of the atonement lies in the Christus Victor theme that explains the cross as the moment of “decisive victory over the ‘principalities and powers’.” He believes we should give priority (though a priority “among equals”) to this understanding of the atonement, while ensuring we do not lose the many other expressions of the atonement, which one would assume would include penal substitution

Just as he will not separate history and theology, neither will he separate the different themes of the atonement, such as Christus Victor and penal substitution. He insists we see these together. So, what does it look like when Wright’s theological reflection ultimately rises from his historical research?

Perhaps the best understanding of Wright’s view of the atonement is found in his contribution to the New Dictionary of Theology. History and theology come together at the cross. After several pages of historical research regarding Jesus’ life and ministry, Wright states:

“[Jesus] would carry out Israel’s task: and, having pronounced Israel’s impending judgment in the form of the wrath of Rome which would turn out to be the wrath of God, he would go ahead of her and take that judgment on himself, drinking the cup of God’s wrath so that his people might not drink it. In his crucifixion, therefore, Jesus identified fully (if paradoxically) with the aspirations of his people, dying as ‘the king of the Jews’, the representative of the people of God, accomplishing for Israel (and hence the world) what neither the world nor Israel could accomplish for themselves.”

Again placing Jesus’ death in historical context and the overarching biblical narrative, Wright adds: “As the story of the exodus is the story of how God redeemed Israel, so the story of the cross is the story of how God redeemed the world through Israel in person, in Jesus, the Messiah.”

Jesus the Innocent One

Now that we have seen a brief overview of how Wright welds together historical and theological understandings of the atonement, we can begin to systematically lay out the different pieces that make up the doctrine of penal substitution. We first turn to the notion of Christ the righteous One, dying in the sinner’s place. Wright frames the discussion of Christ’s righteousness differently than standard Reformed theologians. He does not speak of Christ’s righteousness as “moral perfection.” Instead, he believes that historically, it makes more sense to see Christ’s perfection in terms of faithfulness to His messianic vocation. This does not exclude moral perfection, however, as we will soon see.

Wright denies the traditional Reformed terminology of “imputation of Christ’s righteousness.” He does not deny the concept of imputation, however, as is evident in the way he translates the New Testament epistles. He translates pistis Christou not as “faith in Christ,” but as a subjective genitive, “the faithfulness of Christ.” Here, Wright avoids the language of imputation while maintaining its content. Jesus is faithful to the covenant in place of Israel, who was unfaithful. It is through Jesus’ faithfulness (obedience) that the sin (disobedience) of Adam is undone.

Furthermore, Wright speaks of Jesus’ holiness as a robe which clothes the believer. Again, he makes this affirmation within historical context, but the theological truth is there just the same:

“Jesus, the innocent one, the one person who has done nothing wrong, the one innocent of the crimes of which Israel as a whole was guilty, has become identified with rebel Israel who represents God’s whole rebel world; with us who are rebels, unclean, unfaithful, unloving, unholy – so that he may take that sin as it were into himself and deal with it, and give us instead his holiness as a robe, his purity as a gift and a power.”

Though Wright would disagree with the traditional Reformed categories of imputation and Luther’s “Great Exchange,” he affirms the concept again when he writes: “[Jesus]… takes human uncleanness, so that other humans can take his wholeness. He absorbs our impurity in himself so that it becomes lost without trace, and his own purity flows into us instead.” Wright clearly affirms that Jesus is the innocent One, whose faithfulness substitutes for the unfaithfulness of sinful humanity.

Jesus the Substitute

We look now to the question regarding the substitutionary nature of the atonement. Because Wright emphasizes the Christus Victor theme, many have come to believe that there is no room left for the teaching of substitution. This is simply not the case. Wright’s work is full of references to Jesus’ dying in the sinner’s stead. In his pastoral commentary on Matthew, Wright encourages us to see ourselves in Barabbas’ place. “Barabbas represents all of us. When Jesus dies, the brigand goes free, the sinners go free, we all go free.” He also affirms that Jesus’ death is substitutionary even for the disciples. Jesus dies, so His people will not. “His death is counted by God in place of theirs.”

Elsewhere, Wright affirms (within the first-century historical context) Jesus’ substitutionary atonement. Jesus is Israel’s representative, which means that “what is true of Him is true of them.” By summing up His people in Himself, Jesus “passes through the judgment of death” and into new life.

Wright also affirms the sacrificial nature of Christ’s death. “[Hebrews] offers us, above all, Jesus the final sacrifice; the one who has done for us what we could not do for ourselves, who has lived our life and died our death, and now ever lives to make intercession for us.” Wright’s pastoral commentary on Hebrews backs up what Wright affirms elsewhere, that Jesus’ death is the “sin-offering” required by God.

The reason Wright’s views on substitutionary atonement are called into question stem from his constant grounding of this doctrine in historical events. Wright does not express a view of substitutionary atonement that sounds like a nonhistorical transaction between the individual and God. For Wright, the doctrine of the atonement involves the very events that transpired to put Jesus on the cross. Furthermore, if one does not understand Jesus as the climax and fulfillment of Old Testament history and prophecy, one has not correctly understood the atonement. The judgment that Jesus pronounces upon Israel is precisely the judgment that He Himself will endure at the cross. Wright elaborates:

“Now the judgment that had hung over Israel and Jerusalem, the judgment Jesus had spoken of so often, was to be meted out; and Jesus would deliver his people by taking its force upon himself. His own death would enable his people to escape.”
 ”In the strange justice of God, which overrules the unjust “justice” of Rome and every human system, God’s mercy reaches out where human mercy could not, not only sharing, but in this case substituting for, the sinner’s fate.”

Does Wright affirm the substitutionary nature of the atonement? The answer to our second question is yes.

The Cup of God’s Wrath

We now turn to our final question, this regarding the penal nature of the substitutionary atonement. Was God’s wrath poured out on Jesus on the cross? Though this may be a controversial understanding of the atonement in some liberal circles, Wright defends it staunchly as historically and theologically true.

When speaking of “the wrath of God” on Jesus at the cross, Wright turns to the Gethsemane narrative, and specifically Jesus’ use of the “cup” terminology from the Old Testament. Since, in the prophetic writings, the “cup” refers to God’s wrath, Wright believes it is historically sound to affirm that Jesus was referring to God’s wrath when He willingly faced the cross, in order to drink of the cup. Nowhere does Wright articulate the idea of the “cup” more powerfully than in his Matthew commentary:

“The Old Testament prophets speak darkly about the ‘cup of YHWH’s wrath.’ These passages talk of what happens when the one God, grieving over the awful wickedness of the world, steps in at last to give the violent and bloodthirsty, the arrogant and oppressors, the reward for their ways and deeds. It’s as though God’s holy anger against such people is turned into wine: dark, sour wine which will make them drunk and helpless. They will be forced to “drink the cup,” to drain to the dregs the wrath of the God who loves and vindicates the weak and helpless. The shock of this passage… is that Jesus speaks of drinking this cup himself.”

Notice how Wright maintains the “cup of wrath” in historical context. This is the way he avoids the picture of God as a tyrant taking out His vengeance on His Son for others’ mistakes. Wright sees the wrath of God in historical events. “Jesus takes the wrath of Rome (which is…the historical embodiment of the wrath of God) upon himself…” In fact, God has set Jesus forth as a hilasterion (propitiation).

It is because Jesus took upon Himself the wrath of God in order to shield His people that He uttered His cry of God-forsakenness on the cross. In that moment in which Jesus was most fully embodying God’s love, He found Himself cut off and separated from that love. Furthermore, Jesus’ taking upon Himself the wrath of God against sin (through the Roman crucifixion) frees us from sin and guilt.

“Jesus, the innocent one, was drawing on to himself the holy wrath of God against human sin in general, so that human sinners like you and me can find, as we look at the cross, that the load of sin and guilt we have been carrying is taken away from us. Jesus takes it on himself, and somehow absorbs it, so that when we look back there is nothing there. Our sins have been dealt with, and we need never carry their burden again.”

Again and again, Wright affirms the penal substitutionary view of the atonement. Theologians may quibble with him for not putting this at the center of his atonement theology; others may chide him for not speaking of it more often. But no one who has read Wright fairly can charge him of denying this doctrine. I close this section with a paragraph from one of Wright’s early works, which he has since affirmed in other ways in later writings:

“On the cross Jesus took on himself that separation from God which all other men know. He did not deserve it; he had done nothing to warrant being cut off from God; but as he identified himself totally with sinful humanity, the punishment which that sinful humanity deserved was laid fairly and squarely on his shoulders… That is why he shrank, in Gethsemane, from drinking the ‘cup’ offered to him. He knew it to be the cup of God’s wrath. On the cross, Jesus drank that cup to the dregs, so that his sinful people might not drink it. He drank it to the dregs. He finished it, finished the bitter cup both physically and spiritually… Here is the bill, and on it the word ‘finished’ – ‘paid in full.’ The debt is paid. The punishment has been taken. Salvation is accomplished.”

One can clearly see an affirmation of the penal substitutionary atonement throughout the theology of N.T. Wright. Though Wright does not affirm this doctrine within the standard Reformed categories, the concept of Jesus the Righteous One dying in the place of the sinner and thus taking upon Himself the wrath of God is clearly espoused. Even though some of us may disagree with Wright’s “fresh” perspective on Paul or his view of Jesus’ messianic consciousness, this does not mean we should not affirm Wright where he should be affirmed. Personally, since I began writing this essay, I have a deeper appreciation for the penal substitutionary view of the atonement because of the way Wright espouses it within the historical events of the first century.

written by Trevin Wax  © 2007 Kingdom People blog
This post was originally an essay for Systematic Theology II class at Southern Seminary in Fall 2006. To see the full text, including footnotes, click here.

 
 

Apr

24

2007

Trevin Wax|6:33 am CT

Two Reasons Jesus is Coming Again

jesus-in-light-large.jpgA lot of people today get way off track when talking about the End Times. But I’m not so interested today in how Jesus is coming back, but why.

All the millennial schemes wind up in the same place. New heavens, new earth. Interestingly enough, none of the historic creeds of the church, not even our own Baptist faith and message nail you down to one of the scenarios. That’s why you can have Baptists that disagree, even within the same church. It’s not a test of fellowship. These scenarios make for good discussion and debate. But ultimately, we all agree that Jesus Christ is coming again, bodily, to judge the living and the dead and to bring about a new creation. Just how that plays out is up for discussion.

So, instead of looking too deeply into the “how” Jesus is coming back, I want us to jump ahead to the “Why” question. What is Jesus coming back for? What is the ultimate destiny of the world? What is our ultimate destiny?

2 Peter 3:1-7 starts off with people scoffing at the Christian claim that Jesus will return. And this was two thousand years ago! People were saying, “Where is your Lord? Where is Jesus? If Jesus is reigning, why can’t we see him?”

Try to proclaim the Gospel today. Just tell people that “Jesus is Lord,” and people are going to say, “Well it sure doesn’t look like it.” After all, there are wars, earthquakes, hurricanes, child abuse, murders, divorce… our world is falling apart, so it seems. If Jesus were truly Lord, why wouldn’t He intervene and stop the mess sooner?

Peter compares the End Times with The Flood. He reminds us of the Old Testament account of the world being deluged with water, before a new creation could emerge. Old creation was swept away. New creation came once the waters receded. Peter says that at the end of time, a similar event will take place, but this time with fire. So why hasn’t this happened yet? Why hasn’t God purged the world with fire like he promised?

The reason Jesus hasn’t come back yet is that he is giving people more time to repent. Peter says, “God’s wrath is coming. God is going to judge this world. Jesus is King and one day, He will be revealed.”

WHY IS JESUS COMING BACK?
1. To Judge Everyone in the World, Living and Dead

Jesus is coming back to set the world right, to restore Creation to its original intention. The reason it has been almost 2000 years is because God is giving people a chance to repent, to turn from their sins and to trust Him, thus escaping the coming wrath.

It wouldn’t be right for God not to come in judgment to our world. Our world needs to be judged! What would we think of a judge who never punished criminals? But God’s judgment is not a fire of destroying judgment that will obliterate everyone and everything. It’s the type of judgment that comes from justice, where things are restored. Our world is put back on track. Injustice is righted.

Sometimes, God goes ahead and does this here and now.

God doesn’t just make justice. He floods the world with Justice. He already does it in the present sometimes. We await the time when he will do it in the future. Crime will be punished. The wicked will pay. The righteous will be vindicated. Good deeds will be rewarded. We crave this! Even now, we crave for things to be made right. That day is coming. That is what Jesus is coming back for.

WHY IS JESUS COMING BACK?
2. To Bring New Heavens and New Earth

This is what we are waiting for. A new world. The hippie’s 60′s song went like this:
 ”There’s a new world coming and it’s just around the bend. There’s a new world coming; this one’s coming to an end. There’s a new world coming, the one that we’ve had visions of… coming in peace, coming in joy, coming in love.”

The hippies of the sixties thought that the new world that was coming was going to be through free sex, drugs and rock and roll. But the world that actually came was filled with divorce, torn families, custody battles, addiction, rehab, and violence.

People who worship technology think that a new world is coming, with the invention of the internet, faster communications, and television. But what is actually appearing is isolation, pornography, segregation based on age group and entertainment choices.

People who worship the American way of life think that a new world is coming, in which all societies will be like ours. But what is actually happening is that the world is growing increasingly dangerous, as more and more tension takes place between segments in American society, not to mention threats from terrorists and other hostile countries.

But we worship God – the Just God, the Good Creator who made this world, who will restore this world, who will recreate this world. We know that our thirst for justice will only be quenched by an act of God at the end of history, and that is why Jesus is coming back. To bring new heavens and new earth.

Peter speaks very strongly about the wrath to come. In order for justice to take place, for wrongs to be righted, sin to be punished, and the world to be renewed, the fiery wrath of God must take place. It’s like chemotherapy for cancer treatment. You basically kill the body so you can kill the cancer. The world will have to be almost destroyed before it can be renewed, and we share our part of the blame. When God’s wrath comes upon this world, it will come upon human beings too.

We are part of the problem. If God were to execute justice, we’d all be condemned because we have done our fair share of injustice, sin, and we have caused disintegration in this world. So, how can we escape that Day of Wrath?

This brings us back to the whole reason Jesus came, lived, died, rose, left, and is coming again. To save us.

A story is told of a barnyard, where there was a hen with several little chickens. One night, a lamp in the barn fell to the ground and lit the hay on fire. As the fire raged throughout the house, all the animals were killed. The next morning, as the farmers were going through the rubble, they found the crusty, shell of that hen, and when they opened her wings, they saw all her baby chicks under her wings. She had shielded them from the fire, and had given her own life in the process.

When the day of wrath comes, make sure you’re found under the wings of Jesus. Let his goodness cover your badness. Let his death on the cross be in place of your death. Let his resurrection life be your promise of eternal life. Let his wings shield you from the wrath to come. And let your good deeds, done today in this present life, be the seeds of the new world that will be born. After the earth is scorched and this old world passes away, may what we have done in this life be the foundation for the life to come. When that Day comes, we won’t have to wait any longer. We will be citizens of the new heavens and the new earth, the place in which justice dwells.

written by Trevin Wax  © 2007 Kingdom People blog

 
 

Apr

23

2007

Trevin Wax|6:47 am CT

Where to Buy Bread?

feed5000.jpg“Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?”
- Jesus, to Philip (John 6:5)

Despite the sweltering summer heat, the people had followed Jesus up the mountain to hear His teaching, witness His healing hand at work, and marvel at the miraculous signs He was performing. Though the sun was setting, the masses were still coming. Jesus turned to Philip and asked where they could buy bread for all the people. He didn’t ask because He needed Philip’s answer. He posed the question in order to test Philip’s faith.

Questions are like seeds: if the seeds are parched with doubt, they shrivel up and die. But, if watered with faith, they blossom into a beautiful plant. Jesus didn’t come simply to bring heavenly solutions to all our earthly problems. He also came with questions. Consider the times Jesus answered questions by asking more questions. He did not force feed people with the truth. Instead, He engaged His listeners, letting them tease out the implications of His teachings.

On this particular test, Philip didn’t do so great. He turned in a blank sheet that didn’t even answer Jesus’ question. Rather than tell Jesus where they could go, he told Him how much it would cost. Often, we respond to Jesus in the same manner, avoiding the question by changing the subject. Many times it’s because we understand precisely what Jesus’ questions are leading to that we quickly come up with excuses that skirt the issue and reveal our lack of faith. God opens our eyes to see a need. He puts the question into our mind: “what could I do to help?” And before we answer, we start chattering away about how much it would cost, how much time would be needed, how much emotional energy we would be drained of.

Has God been bringing more questions into your mind than answers lately? Take the cue! This is your chance to respond to God’s question with faith. Don’t allow the circumstances to dry up the seed. Instead, trust God to use the questions to bring His plan in your life to fruition.

written by Trevin Wax  © 2007 Kingdom People blog

 
 

Apr

22

2007

Trevin Wax|6:54 am CT

Augustine's Prayer to the Holy Spirit

st-augustine-prayer-sm.jpg

Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I love but what is holy.
Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy.
Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit, that I always may be holy. Amen.