In that we know Jesus, we know the one through whom all things were created and for whom all things are designed.
The focus in John’s Gospel with regard to who Jesus is on his activity in the world at one with God and humanity: as creator, redeemer and lord. His identity, as presented in the Gospel is a dynamic one, not one that can be presented in static terms; but it is not a dynamic which begins with the Incarnation – it is one which overarches and sustains the entire drama of creation, redemption and glorification. Jesus, the one born among us is the one who was before all things, and the one in whom all history takes its meaning and end. This is not something new in John’s Gospel, but John draws upon the OT, and develops an account strongly complementary to the Synoptic tradition. Far from setting his account of the distinctiveness and pre-incarnate history of Christ over against the history and traditions of the Jews, John in his Gospel is asserting that in Jesus, and only in Jesus, all the central traditions of the OT find their fulfilment.
In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestles with the divine man in the Old Testament, and in Matthew, where Peter similarly encounters Jesus walking on the water. In both cases (if we take the latter encounter to presage Peter’s confession at Caesarea a Philipi), there is a change of name involved: something which can only properly come from an encounter with God by whom we are named.
Both Jacob/Israel’s and Simon/Peter’s encounters are temporally specific – that are about a critical event. The encounter has significance beyond that particular moment: Jacob and Simon cannot be the same again, again. But that does not involve their abstraction from history, since they are renamed for God’s purposes in history: Jacob as the patriarch of the patriarchs in the calling of Israel as the bearer of God’s promised in the Old Testament, and Peter, as the disciples, who become the apostles, the chief witnesses to the resurrected Jesus and the foundation, upon Christ, for the covenantal community which Jesus brings into being.
It is in the fully human Jesus that the personality of God is known, and the personality of Jesus is none other than the personality of God. The Son is the one in whom all things cohere (Col. 1:15; see also 1 Cor. 8:6b and John 1:1) It is on this basis that Christ is Lord of all creation. It has been put famously by Abraham Kuyper:
‘…there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: “Mine!”’
This is a powerful vision of Christ as the ascended Lord, who rules not only with the authority of the Father but also by virtue of his own status as the one in whom and through whom all things were created. For Kuyper, the general principle of Calvinism involves what he calls ‘the cosmological significance of Christ’. In speaking of Christ’s ‘cosmological significance’, Kuyper has Christ’s redemptive role in view here, as well as his prior creative one. Christ is redeemer of all creation because he is creator of all. For this reason, Christ’s work includes the restoration of the entire cosmos not simply the redemption of individual sinners.
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society
A basic philosophical problem is “how is individuality possible”? How can who I am make any sense against the vast panorama of time and eternity?
On the one hand, there are universals that make sense of the world by providing generally intelligible reference point but which lack the identification of the particular. Relationships then take the form of a contract that is then concluded according to the mutual self-interest of the contracting parties. This paradoxically reduces or removes the possibility of individual uniqueness, since the individual then just becomes an atom in a mechanically constructed matrix, and in which the possibility for relationship, other than tangential encounter, is reduced and finally excluded. As human beings, we are historically specific, whether we like it or not.
On the other hand, if individuals are particulars, they have local reference, but lack the universal application Post-modernism is, ironically, a form of localism. Any attempt to define a universal “self” is deconstructed. A local identity is constructed artificially with a disclaimer of any attempt at universal relevance. Post-modernism in this respect is the modern form of ancient Cynicism, where anything of universal significance was disclaimed.
It is only as the role of the Father is the life of the world is distinguished and recognised, can individuality – the respect accorded to each unique entity can properly be understood.
In the encounter of Jesus with his opponents in Mark 11:28-29 we see these elements being worked out:
MK 11:27 They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. 28 "By what authority are you doing these things?" they asked. "And who gave you authority to do this?" Jesus replied, "I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 30 John’s baptism–was it from heaven, or from men? Tell me!" 31 They discussed it among themselves and said, "If we say, `From heaven,’ he will ask, `Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 32 But if we say, `From men’ . . . ." (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.) 33 So they answered Jesus, "We don’t know." Jesus said, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things." 12:1 He then began to speak to them in parables: "A man planted a vineyard…..
Jesus indicates that he is not coming in his own authority but in the authority of the Father. Because he comes in the authority of the Father, this is something that his hearers cannot ignore. They cannot be neutral. Either they reject Jesus’ claim to be speaking on behalf or with the authority of the Father, or else they accept the full import of what Jesus is saying for themselves and their lives. Jesus claims for himself the Father’s glory on the basis of his having glorified the Father (John 17:4, 5: Philippians 2:8,9).
Knowledge of by what authority Jesus was acting would lead to responsibility of the hearers to act on their knowledge (i.e. to believe in Jesus) and so respond to the Father’s calling of Jesus and by the same token to the Father’s calling of them.
Here we see the close relationship between authority and authenticity: by accepting the authority of the Father and acting truly on it from the heart, only so are we acting authentically. This is the new heart of Deuteronomy 30:14 and Jeremiah 31:33.
The challenge of the Father cuts deep into us – strips way pretence and excuses. Through the acknowledgement of our relationship with the Father and our acting out of it, our stance becomes prophetic. The prophetic stance is that which authentically (i.e. which stands in full consciousness of the calling of the Father and responsibility to him) addresses the truth and hope of the situation which we are placed.
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society
In Isaiah 63:7-14, we see how God relates to his people, and, by the same token, to the world. Firstly we see God’s covenantal faithfulness towards his people and the world. The world cannot make sense in and of itself. It points beyond itself to the One by whose word all things take their character, meaning and direction, the Origin of all things. Nothing can exist on its own, or even have the possibility of existence, unless it is brought into being, and sustained by the spoken word and breath of God. We are created for God’s glory (see Isaiah 43:7) – not an arbitrary whim, but a settled purpose. Calvin states: “Deus solus legibus solutus est, sed non exlex”. This can be paraphrased: “God alone is not subject to laws, and yet does not act arbitrarily”. God holds all things in store for us from before the creation of the world in a way which we know will be for our good and the good of the world – something which we can affirm because we trust him. Our trust in God is confirmed in two ways: his presence with us now and his promise for the future. In the present, we see God’s personal engagement with his people and the world. God makes himself known to us, indeed makes himself the object of our encounter with him and opens to us the possibility of entering into a personal relationship with him. Abraham, the father of the chosen people, and Moses, the receiver of the written law and covenant, both encountered the divine presence (the same figure described variously in Isaiah as the “Angel of his presence” or “the arm of the Lord”) directly in this way. God’s presence makes it possible the people to be brought together in harmonious obedience under the God’s law. It is also through God’s presence that the people are assured of redemption and grace. In the Old Testament, God’s presence is revealed above all in the Tabernacle, later the Temple, where sacrifices took place for the sins of the people, and where the Shekinah (literally the tenting) of God was located. It is this same ”tenting” that the Gospel of John speaks of in the New Testament – God’s tenting appeared among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth (1:14) – we have seen his glory (the Hebrew word corresponding to the Greek text literally means God’s “weightiness”, in other words his embodiment for us) full of grace and truth. In Paul’s letter to the Colossians (1:17), this same Jesus is described as the one in whom all things hold together, that is, take their coherence. With respect to God’s promise for the future, we see God’s animating dynamism in his people and the world. God’s Spirit acts sovereignly in grace and judgment encouraging and cajoling God’s people; but also opening up the richness and diversity of the world. Isaiah looks towards the New Jerusalem. This vision is also taken up in the New Testament in the book of Revelation (Chapters 21-22). God’s Spirit moves in all things to bring them to his perfect future.
In all of this we see how God acts diversely and yet in a unified and coherent way in the world.
Having set out the broad vision, we need to think about the working out of this vision in specific areas of life. What does it mean to affirm God to be the Origin of all things, as well as affirming his presence in the coherence of all things, and power and promise in drawing all things together to his promised future. One important implication is that it frees us from the need to find the origin, coherence and purpose of the world within the confines of the world as we find it. To make sense of the world in its own terms inevitably involves explaining it in terms of one aspect and playing down other aspects which need independently to be taken into account. This means a distorted and impoverished way of understanding the world. On the other hand, if we start with God in the way we have described as the basis of all things, this frees us to accept all things in all their diversity without having to construct one form of explanation about how they all fit together. It also means that we can have confidence in what we do in the present without our feeling that we need to have everything sewn up or brought under our own control. In other words, we are freed for joyful, trusting and fruitful obedience.
This is a response to the Sandlin article posted on Refwrite classifying the types of Reformed Theology into True Reformed, and Catholic Reformed as well as (liberal) Reformed. In terms of that classification I would class myself as True Reformed, in that I hold to an undiluted understanding of the penal substitution of Christ for us – that we are justified before God solely on the basis of faith in Christ’s sacrifice for us. But I understand myself to be True Reformed, like Calvin, in a full Trinitarian sense fully taking into account the insights of Western and Eastern Church traditions, as well as the crucial breakthrough at the Reformation with Luther.
Christ as the high priest is the only sacrifice on our behalf having died once and for all for all as a propitiation for our sins (not simply washing away our sins, but eternally as our representative to the Father through the Spirit, bearing up his own sacrifice of himself from all eternity to all eternity). This is specifically a sacrifice of the Son in his own person, in which we cannot share actively, both only received as empty-handed beggars. At the same time, the sacrifice of the Son is a prophetic act, demonstrating God’s love to us and provoking us to active covenantal obedience. In this respect, we are called to the imitation of Christ, as we, in the words of Romans 12, present ourselves as living sacrifices to God in a response of love, praise and holy living. Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus is also the Victor over sin and death. But neither of this two other understandings of the atonement is possible except on the basis of Christ’s once for all propitiatory sacrifice. They do not diminish the force or effect of that unique act of self-giving in any way, only underline its overall Trinitarian context.
All that we know or can know of God is that he has revealed himself in the person of Jesus. In other words, our knowledge of God is first of God as Trinity (which is the deeper logic of the affirmation that “Jesus is Lord”), and then of God who created the world. We cannot move immediately to the affirmation that God created the world, because it is only within the framework of our affirmation that God is Trinity that we can affirm that God created the world. Otherwise, that would be what Heidegger calls “onto-theology” – the projection of our own temporal reflections onto a notional eternity .
1. The Trinity is how God reveals himself. It is a limiting idea in that it forbids us to think other of God than how he reveals himself.
2. The presumption of a disjunction between who God is and how he reveals himself is something we impose on God (it is what Calvin calls a “bare and empty name” which “flits around in our brains, to the exclusion of the true God.” [Institutes 1.13.2)].
3. It is not permitted to speak of God as “originating essence” or in any other similar way. This is to impose an essentially Unitarian construction on our understanding of God. It is contrary to divine self-revelation to say that in effect that God is “essentially” mondic but “energetically” or “economically” triune.
4. To say that God could (Voluntarist) or could not (Realist) be other than the Trinity is to impose inappropriate categories upon God, because while the alternatives of necessity and contingency are characteristic of the created order where characteristics are predicated of these things to which they pertain. To say that characteristics are predicated of God is inappropriate: God simply is who he says he is.
5. There is both continuity and discontinuity between God and the world. The world reflects the Trinitarian character of God, and yet God is entirely other in relation to the world. That God is Trinity is not derived from the world, and yet, since the world is created by the Triune God, it is to be expected that the world is Trinitarian in character.
6. To accord eternity or a-temporality to any aspect of the created order is to compromise the temporal character of the universe. Time does not stand over against the rest of the created order – it comes into being as occurrence. “The beginning in Gen 1:1 – also John 1:1 and Proverbs 8 – is originally not part of the created order but is rather the eternal Son in whom all things are created, and in whom all Wisdom (that is the Holy Spirit) is possessed.
7. God is Creator (with a capital “C” indicating creatio ex nihilo) but this is not an adequate description of God as God, since that would make God dependent on the world for who is is (since it is not possible to be a Creator without a creation). If being Creator is what makes God god then God cannot be god without creating, i.e. God has to create in order to be god, in other words, since God is none other than God, God has to create.
8. By contrast, to define God as Trinity means that God does not have to create in order to be god. Creation is not per se part of God’s definition as god, since God’s self-definition is on the basis of the inter-dependency of the Three Persons – there is no infinite regression of ontological dependency but only a closed ontological circle (i.e. with each of the Persons being eternally dependent on each of the other two – they are not dependent on any other entity or “originating essense” apart from themselves). As Triune, God is always god, regardless of whether he creates or not.
9. The fact that in both instances (i.e. with respect to God as Creator and God as Trinity) we have to use created language, albeit inadequately, to describe the reality of God does not reduce God to the created order. The reality of God, be it as Trinity or as Creator, cannot be reduced either to the numerical or formative modalities.
10. To say that because we can only speak of God in created terms that God is thereby reduced to created forms is a fallacious argument. That is to confuse our speech about God with God’s sovereign self-revelation. Because God reveals himself as Trinity in created terms does not mean that God’s freedom consists in our freedom to speak of God other than as Trinity – rather God’s sovereignty requires us to speak about God as Trinity, and not as any of our projections about God be it as “created essence” or in any other way. God certainly defines himself with respect to us as Creator – but if that were purely the case it would be impossible to know him. It is only through the Son that God can be known (this is true implicitly in the Old Testament and explicitly in the New Testament).
- A Framework for Life: Elements of a Working Christian Philosophy
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