Thoughts from a Pastor-Daddy-Theologian: Growing in the Habit of Family Prayer

Prayer and the reading of Scripture are the Christian’s bread and butter (right along with the Sacraments, I’ll come back to that another time). Growing up in the evangelical Church, I knew that I was supposed to pray and regularly read because it is expressed so plainly in Scripture. Throughout Scripture, we are exhorted to pray (throughout the Psalms), bring our needs to God (Philippians 4:6-7) and join in the worship of God in the community of Christ (Hebrews 10:19-25, Acts 2:42). But, I’ve never been that fantastic at maintaining the habit of daily prayer and Scripture reading. Why?

First, to draw an analogy. My wife grew up in the Catholic Church; she struggled to find roots for her faith because no one could tell her why they did what they did. Why do you cross yourself? Why do you kneel? Why do you receive the Body and Blood of Christ? These formative actions and habits, without explanation, did little to form her knowledge and love of God.

Similarly, Evangelicals tell their children to read the Bible and pray. But they can quickly fail to tell and show them why this is essential to their faith. In both cases, the faith must be caught and taught.

As an Anglican Pastor and Father, I am in danger of failing on both fronts. Conversely, I have the glorious opportunity to teach my children and church the deep meaning of liturgical worship tied a life of prayer and scripture reading.

Secondly, this practice was difficult to grow in and maintain because I expected so much out of it. The pressure to have a life-giving devotional time and to encounter God every time I prayed and read was intimidating and overwhelming. There was a felt need for a spiritual high every-time I prayed or read; it was exhausting both in anticipation and disappointment. Finally, there was also a suspicion around prayer and Scripture becoming routine, which meant I needed to spice it up; never let it get old or worn out. All these factors combined lead to an anxious prayer life

Beyond my own experience, I’ve seen this anxiety about the habit of prayer becoming routine in my limited pastoral experience. I’ve begun to wonder whether it is an implicit romanticizing of our relationship with God. Do we view our relationship with God through the lens of dating and romantic love? If we are always supposed to be on fire for God, like a fresh romance, then of course routine feels like capitulation. I think, then, the problem is the lens of romantic love. I believe friendship and Marriage are better metaphors, both of which require time, patience, commitment, and routine. What if the change, relationship, and encounter we desire in our relationship with God is experienced over time doing the same thing with the desire to love and serve God?

So how have I grown in the habit of daily prayer and Scripture reading? Falteringly, through The Daily Office.

The Daily Office is an order of prayer and Scripture reading set for morning and evening prayer with shorter times of prayer at noon and before bed. Combined with a reading plan (the Daily Office Lectionary) it is a helpful tool for making prayer and Scripture reading an essential part of the rhythm of your day.

Throughout my early to mid-’20s, I preferred and wanted to pray far more than I desired to read Scripture. But, as I entered seminary, I was ushered into the practice of daily morning and evening prayer in Chapel, which forced me to do both together. Four years of this practice slowly that shaped my desires to pray and read Scripture; sometimes being told that you have to do something, actually works. Nevertheless, the application of daily morning and evening prayer in life outside of seminary is almost overwhelming. In God’s providence, we also joined an intentional community in our last year of seminary that helped encourage praying the Daily Office by myself.

Since we left Pittsburgh, a few things, both theological and practical, have helped us to grow in the rhythms of daily prayer.

First, I needed a more robust and mundane doctrine of Scripture. Robust because I needed to see that Scripture is a primary means of grace by which the Holy Spirit shapes his Church into the image of Christ. (see my blog post what Scripture is for). Mundane, because I needed to submit to the extended slow reading of Scripture as God communicates his grace to me over many years

Second, I needed to learn to read and meditate on Scripture in the context of prayer. The Daily Office, with its rhythm of prayer and Scripture, provides that context. Worship, either communally, or as an individual in Spiritual communion with the Church, is the proper location of the reading of Scripture. We see this reflected in the prayers of the Psalms and the Early Church.

All that said, getting into a habit of praying the daily office was difficult, and for a good reason.

The practice of daily prayer forced me to walk the Gospel line between legalism and lawlessness. The Gospel is that in Christ, God loves and accepts me (justification) and in the Holy Spirit empowers me to love and obey him (sanctification) (blog post on the gospel).

The practice of daily pray consistently forces me to reckon with the Gospel. I’m not accepted or loved by doing daily prayer (legalism). However, doing daily prayer is good for me because it shapes my day around God and his grace. Further, when I fail to maintain daily prayer, i don’t just give up (lawlessness), nor I am a failure (perfectionistic legalism). I do not fall out of my justification because I am united to Christ (see my blog posts on union with Christ 1, 2, 3). But I am called to get back on the horse, to keep building the habit – to ‘always begin again.’

So how have we grown as a family in daily prayer? How do we keep going, trusting that God’s grace is given in the robust, mundane, and gospel rhythms of prayer and Scripture?

1. Community

Establishing the practice of prayer and Scripture reading is a lot easier to do when other people are doing it with you. My time in seminary and an intentional community grew the desire for a rhythm of prayer and Scripture reading. Now with our small family, we push one another to pray and read, even when we don’t feel like it. I receive and am reminded of God’s grace every time my daughter pipes up at mealtime telling us to pray, ‘more pray.’ Even when I don’t feel like it, I know I need to do it and having a community with the same goals and desire helps grow the habit.

2. Diversity of Tools for different times

The Book of Common Prayer is an excellent tool for prayer. But sometimes, in life, we don’t have the time or capacity to sit down and pray and read for a half-hour. Thankfully, there are a variety of tools and options. The two we’ve found most helpful are Trinitymission.org and ACNA’s Family Devotions.

During our early days of parenting, we would listen to Fr. Michael Jarrett read morning prayer, through the trinitymission.org. At this point, we felt like we were accomplishing a lot by just listening and praying along with him. These times of prayer framed our days and instilled in our family the importance of daily prayer, even when our daughter was fussy, or Lindsay was driving to work. At that point, evening prayer was much harder to accomplish with any regularity.

As our daughter grew up, we slowly moved away from listening to actively praying with her and as a family, by praying ACNA’s Family prayer (link). It is a shortened version of morning, midday, evening, and compline prayer. It starts with a Scripture reading, a psalm, a scripture verse, The Lord’s Prayer, and a Collect. We add our prayers, readings from the ACNA Catechism, and the Apostles Creed. We can accomplish the bare-bones version this in under 2 minutes or spend up to 10 minutes.

Reading Scripture as a family continues to be a challenge. Lindsay and I read from the ACNA’s Daily office lectionary (two-year plan) separately, and try to read together on the weekends. But more often than not, we forget or don’t prioritize it. In the evenings, we’ve been trying to read a story from *The Jesus Storybook Bible* with Maren.

An additional tool, for Scripture reading, that we’ve found vital is thebibleproject.com. This resource helps us learn the big picture of the books of the Bible and see how each book points us to and is about Jesus.

Music has also played a part in our family prayer life. The music of Roots for Rain graces our car drives, and during certain seasons we incorporate music from the Liturgical Folk. I think Luther said that when we sing, we pray twice, and we all love singing praises to our Lord together.

3. Patience and Trust

Growing in the habit of prayer all requires patience, trust, and for me, a consistent battle against legalism. I have to be patient with what we can do, trusting that over time, we are growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Patience and trust help me fight against the temptation to feel like I’m not doing enough, or we could be doing it better. Again, this brings me back to the Gospel. We put effort into our growth, and the growth comes from God (see Philippians 2:12).

4. Grace is for doin’ something.

Finally, the discipline of daily prayer and Scripture reading through the Daily Office is grounded in the sanctifying Grace of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I’ll write more about this point another time, but, in short, God’s grace is the Triune God’s personal work of transformation in our lives is both for forgiveness and transformation. In some Christian circles, grace is seen primarily as forgiveness; grace is given when we admit when we’ve done wrong. While this is true, the Grace of God also compels, directs, and changes; Grace is for doin’ something (see Ephesians 2:8-10 which emphasizes both aspects of grace). It is by the grace of God that we’ve grown in daily prayer and the grace of God will be what keeps us going.

If you want to learn even more about The Daily Office and Anglican Worship, hop over to Theanglicanpastor.com; it is a wonderful resource for all things Anglican.

Also, I am a huge fan of the ACNA’s new Book of Common Prayer. Here are some videos about it, and the place to go buy it.

Running Theological Thoughts: Habakkuk 2:6-11

Shall not all these take up their taunt against him, with scoffing and riddles for him, and say,

“Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own—
    for how long?—
    and loads himself with pledges!”
Will not your debtors suddenly arise,
    and those awake who will make you tremble?
    Then you will be spoil for them.
Because you have plundered many nations,
    all the remnant of the peoples shall plunder you,
for the blood of man and violence to the earth,
    to cities and all who dwell in them.

“Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house,
    to set his nest on high,
    to be safe from the reach of harm!
10 You have devised shame for your house
    by cutting off many peoples;
    you have forfeited your life.
11 For the stone will cry out from the wall,
    and the beam from the woodwork respond.

Exegetical Observations: The identity of the speaker of the five woes spoken against the Chaldeans in verses 6-20 seems to be those who the Chaldeans gathered from the nations. These words are spoken as riddles, or proverbs against the Chaldeans.

In 6b-8, the first woe is declared against those who steal what is not theirs and lend unfairly. The object of woe, then, seems to be those who lend money unjustly. In verse 7 the lenders are warned that their debtors will rise against them, and become a spoil to their own debtors. In verse 8 the image of lender and debtor morphs into military imagery. The Woe is the same, however, because the Chaldeans have plundered many nations, they will be plundered. 8b expresses clearly what they are being punished for, for the violence against humanity, land, and cities. In other words, the Chaldeans have violently destroyed, and they will be held accountable for this destruction.

The Second Woe, in verses 9-11, paints a picture of Babylonians trying to build a secure house to avoid the impending judgment. In building their house, read their empire, they have destroyed many, and because of their injustice, they will lose their life (Vs 10). The very stuff, maybe people, who they built their empire with/on will cry out against him.

Theological Comments: In these woes, we see God’s judgment declared against the Chaldeans. This judgment has not yet come, but it will; it is for this justice that the faithful wait for. The Chaldeans, like any bringer of injustice, are greedy, violent, and prideful. Their very violence will be their end. These woes, however, should both encourage the reader and shake the reader. Encourage, because God will bring justice against those who sow injustice. Shake, because the reader realizes that the injustice of the Chaldeans is our injustice. Like the woes to the disciples in Luke 6, these woes warn us against the path of destruction, that is the path of the foolish and prideful, who find their consolation in the things of the world. The woe against the Chaldeans becomes a woe against all of humanity that stands rightly condemned for their idolatry, their pride, and their violence.

Humanity, like the Chaldeans, tries to build up a secure house against the impending judgment of God. We try to secure ourselves, our identity, our happiness, in temporal things, but these very things cry out in judgment against us. In the vein of Augustine, the temporal things cry out and say, we are not to be worshiped, we are but created things like you, worship your creator.

The stone of the wall and the beam of the woodwork, that the Chaldeans build cries out in judgment and points us to the true Rock and true Tree, who saves us from our rightful condemnation and recreates our hearts to love the creator and Lord of the world. Christ is the true Rock and Tree who takes the judgment that the whole human race has earned through their love of self and destruction of others, and cries out and declares all who turn to him as righteous, and transforms their hearts of stone into flesh, their rotten branches are infused into the tree of life. In Christ Judgment and mercy meet and the judgment of our sin is transformed into our salvation.

Running Theological Thoughts on Scripture: Habakkuk Chapter 1:1-4

 

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Introduction:

Good Christian theology is based on excellent and faithful exegesis. As a pastor-theologian my vocation is deeply bound up with the exegeting, interpreting and applying of Holy Scripture. My own inclination in thinking, writing, etc., is to look at the big picture of Scripture and think about how it all relates to God and his works. However, the source of theology is the divine revelation of Scripture, so to do theology well I must be a good exegete.

Being a good exegete requires that I am sensitive to two realities: the literal meaning of the text, what we will call the horizontal meaning. And what the text communicates about who God is, what he is like, and what he calls humans to do, what I will call the vertical meaning of the text (for more on this consider reading Participatory Exegesis by Matthew Levering). In this series, I will offer some theological readings of specific books of Scripture in a running commentary with an eye on the axis of the horizontal and vertical dimensions of good exegesis. To begin this series I turn to a minor prophet, Habakkuk, to discover what the book is about and how it speaks about God, Christ, and humanity.

Instead of offering a detailed introduction to the book of Habakkuk, I suggest you watch this video, made by the brilliant people over at The Bible Project.

It is important to note the time of the prophecies of Habakkuk: Around 626-586 B.C. Israel was divided into two Kingdoms, the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. In 722 BC the Northern Kingdom was conquered by Assyria. Between 626 and 586 BC The southern Kingdom was slowly conquered and brought into exile. The final destruction of Judah and the Temple came in 586 B.C.

The structure of the book, as we saw in the video, is made up of three basic sections: section 1: A dialogue between Habakkuk and YHWH (1:1-2:1); section 2: YHWH’s 2nd response and judgment on the Chaldeans (2:2-22); and section 3: A Psalm of God’s deliverance (3:1-19).

In this first post, I discuss Habakkuk’s first complaint.

Habakkuk 1:1-4: Habakkuk’s first complaint:

The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw.

Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see iniquity,
and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law is paralyzed,
and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
so justice goes forth perverted.

Verse 1:

Observations:

We know nothing about the prophet Habakkuk, expect that he is a prophet. One who the Holy Spirit has called, set apart, and ordered to hear and proclaim the Word of God. This is no lite calling, we need only look at other prophetic callings to see that (Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 1-2). As a prophet,  not only does Habakkuk speak the Word of God to the people, but he speaks to God for his people; for the righteous (see 1.4;13; 2:4). As a prophet of God, he mediates between God and humanity. As a prophet, he puts to voice the complaint of the righteous and confesses the sins of those who have rebelled against God. As a prophet, he speaks of God’s judgment and deliverance. Habakkuk speaks only what he sees. Everything in the book of Habakkuk is something that the prophet “saw” (v 1). This presents to the reader the fact that Habakkuk did not simply make this stuff up, his complaints, the vision of woes, and the deliverance of God are all things he perceives and proclaims from God.

Theological Comments:

Habakkuk’s ministry as a prophet signifies several things about God and the economy of Salvation. First, the Lord God reveals God to humanity. We cannot gain access to who God is and what he does expect through God’s revealing of God.  Second, The office of prophet as one who reveals and mediates points us to Jesus Christ. He is the true prophet who is the very Word of God and the true human who reveals God to humanity and reconciles humanity to God through his infinite life in his death and resurrection. Thirdly, Habakkuk’s receptivity as a prophet, being one who sees, reminds us of the way that Jesus Christ, in the form of a servant (Phil 2:6-9), did only that which he saw the Father was doing (see John 5:18-20). As the Son of God Jesus is equal to the Father, even as he is eternally from the Father, yet, in the form of a servant, he receives and does the will of the Father (which is the will of the triune God). Finally, Habakkuk’s role as a prophet, as one who receives and speaks what he hears, points to the Christian’s vocation as one who witnesses to who God is and what God does.  Christians are called to be witnesses who hear and receive and speak only what they receive and hear from the Triune God.

Verse 2-4:

Observations:

Habakkuk’s complaint opens by calling on YHWH. In using the covenant name of God the whole of who the Lord is and what he has done for Israel is set before the reader. YHWH is the One who rescued Israel from slavery and death, brought them through the Red Sea, made a covenant with Israel. YHWH is the One God who has patiently guided Israel as a rebellious child for hundreds of years.

He is the God who Israel has cried to again and again with the same kind of cry that Habakkuk utters: “how long shall I cry for help and you will not hear?” In these verses, Habakkuk asks three questions as the prophet of God about the injustice and evil in the people of Judah (v 2-3). Judah has wrought violence and iniquity, and all God has done, according to Habakkuk is the look on idly. Judah is in a state of chaos; they are in a state of continual abnegation and perversion of justice, disobedience to the law, and the persecution of the righteous (v 4).

When we consider the canon of Scripture we can see that Judah is in a state of chaos and rebellion much like the time of the Judges. Yet, there remains a righteous contingent who are being oppressed by the wicked. It is on behalf of these righteous few that Habakkuk calls out to God. There is such an overwhelming force of evil that prevents the righteous from following the law (it “is paralyzed”) and doing justice (it is perverted and does not go forth). We will have more to say about the righteous in another blog post. We can gather from this verse that the righteous are those who are persecuted and seek God in the midst of abundant evil.

The mention of the righteous in the midst of evil brings to mind people like Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Joshua. People who God had chosen to show forth his goodness and glory in the midst of the chaos and rebellion of the World. These righteous people are made righteous by their faith in God. In submitting to God’s goodness and plan they join in his work of redemption and salvation.

Yet, the life of the righteous is not an easy one, because they seek the kingdom of God in the midst of the kingdom of the earth, in the midst of the world of chaos and evil. This chaos is found on two levels: The world and Habakkuk’s own people. Habakkuk’s cries out as one of the righteous men who deeply desires to see God bring his justice, goodness, and holiness to bear upon the evil in the world (see chapter 2). In these verses, Habakkuk also cries out on behalf of the righteous for God to deliver them from the evil surrounding them in Judah.

Theological Comments:

In these first few verses, we can see that God is patient with those who are sinful and unjust. He is not quick in his wrath towards injustice. He is patient and waits to the point where the righteous feel as if the injustice and evil have won and overwhelmed the day. God’s patience is not like our patience which quickly wanes thin; he knows his purposes and the end for which he intends his plans to go, the ultimate end and purpose being communion with God in Christ through the Holy Spirit.

These verses reveal that in this world the righteous suffer as they wait for God. This reminds me of Augustine’s concept of the City of Man and the City of God. Those who are of the City of God are on a long pilgrimage to the heavenly city where justice will reign, and the righteous will shine like the noon-day Sun. On this pilgrimage, the City of God and Man are mingled, and those in the City of God walk alongside the city of man. They suffer in the world, in the church, and in their own hearts.

God uses these trials, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to make us like his Son. The eternal Son of God, the truly righteous one, the true prophet and mediator between God and humanity Jesus Christ. In these verses in Habakkuk, we see Jesus Christ, in his life, death, and resurrection as the righteous one surrounded by the wicked. But he was not swallowed by it. Though justice was perverted in the death of Christ – he died as a guilty man though he was innocent – and the law used by the evil one to bring forth more injustice (see Rom. 7 and Galatians 3); God in Christ destroyed death, Sin and the Devil and brought true justice in his death and resurrection.

Those who are in Christ, though they are surrounded by the wicked and unjust, pray for God to bring about his justice just as he did in the unexpected and new-creation resurrection of Jesus Christ. We cry out to our Covenant Lord, Yahweh who, though patient, is not idle, and though quiet is always at work in bringing about his plan for the good of his people.

In our next post, we will see how God responds to Habakkuk’s complaint.

 

Questions from the Parish: Who Created God?

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Last night I was asked this question: “who created God?” Here are my thoughts towards an answer to this question.

If we assume that there is some higher power in the universe, then we have to think through what that means.

We have two options: either this higher power has always existed alongside, in or as the created universe, or the higher power existed before or outside the universe. If we grant the first one, then this higher power is in some way related to or identical with the universe, and we are merely in an eternal existence of matter, and this is ‘God.’ If we grant the second then this higher power exists outside the universe.

Following the second route, we are confronted with a choice: either this higher power is itself created, and there is a being behind this creating being that created it to create the world; or this higher power is the Creator and first cause of all existence and therefore uncreated, eternal, infinite, etc.

If we follow the first path, then we fall into a kind of infinite regress; always looking for the next higher being who created the previous being. If we follow the second path, we are confronted with the possibility of a being who is the first cause of all other beings, and thus unlike anything we know or can imagine. Why? Because there is nothing in our experience of a being that is entirely self-sustaining and the source of all life and being. (see Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, 1.1-2).

At this point, if you accept that there must be a first cause, you are left with a few options. Either believe that this God exists as the primary cause and mover of the universe and you leave it at that, or you seek to discern if this first cause has revealed itself as something more than simply a first cause. For Christians, we believe that this first Cause is the Triune God who has revealed himself in Scripture as the infinite-personal Creator God.

Christians believe based on divine revelation and faith that this creator is The Triune God who has revealed himself in Scripture as the creator and sustainer of the world. In Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1 the Scriptures say that God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit created the whole universe out of nothing. In the rest of Genesis 1-2, the author shows that God is the creator of all things by demonstrating that he created everything that people in the Ancient Near East worshipped as gods. Further, the Bible holds that the end goal of creation is life with God in a renewed heavens and earth (Revelations 21-22).

I don’t expect this line of thought to convince someone that God exists and that if God exists this God is the God of Scripture, I find it helpful to see that if we grant the first cause outside of creation, it is possible to  be lead to the God who reveals himself as the creator of the world: The Triune God of Scripture.

 

Holy Scripture: What is it and what is it for?

 

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Introduction:

In the life of a Christian, there is an expectation that one read, study, and inwardly digest Holy Scripture. This is integral to the Christian life, as we can see in the collect for the Second Sunday in Advent:

BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

When we read Scripture, a question arises, that is not so easily answered: what is Holy Scripture?

A few quick answers come to mind:

  1. 2 Timothy 3:16-17: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. This verse names what Scripture is, “God-breathed” and communicates the purpose of Scripture, i.e., to complete and form the Christian into the likeness of Jesus. 
  2. Hebrews 4:12-13  For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. This verse is complex and significant because it seems to correlate the written word of God with Jesus Christ himself. It, like 2 Timothy 3 directs our attention to the formative and active nature of God’s Word. 
  3. 1 Corinthians 15:3-4: For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. Here Paul notes that he received what was delivered; that Christ died and rose again which was in accordance with Scripture, i.e., the Old Testament. Here we see Christ and his work as the content and goal of the Scripture (see my blog entry on the Gospel). 

From these verses, many of the shorthand answers of what Scripture are presented: it is God-breathed, it the Word of God written. And while these answers are well and good, more needs to be said. Why? Because these answers seem to separate what Scripture holds together: what Scripture is and what it is for. Any doctrine of Scripture must hold together these two questions, and the answer for the second must be derivative from the first. Further, these answers often seem to side-step critical scholarship and function in a rhetorical posture of defensiveness.

The answer to critical scholarship cannot be a blind turn to non-rational belief – “The Bible says it, I believe it.” At the same time, I do not think we need to concede grounds to scholars who read Holy Scripture like another book. Thus, we need a way to articulate what Scripture is and what it is for, in the context of faith seeking understanding.

What we are dealing with when we try to understand the nature of Scripture is how a human text can communicate who God is and what God does. Often, people fall on one of two sides: either emphasizing its supernatural revelation and downplaying the creaturely aspects of it, or emphasizing the creaturely elements of it and ignoring the possibility of divine revelation.

Many analogies are used for the relationship between the human and divine aspects of Holy Scripture, the Incarnation of Jesus is perhaps the most popular one these days. Jesus is fully God and fully human, but one person; similarly, Scripture is fully divine and fully human. The problem with this analogy is that it abstracts the utterly unique work of God in the incarnation into a principle. Further, the analogy falls apart because the two natures of Jesus are held together in the One person of the Son, there is no correlate point of union for the Scriptures. Where do we go for a better understanding of what Holy Scripture is and what it is for?

Let’s begin by considering Article 6 of the 39 Articles of Religion:

HOLY Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the holy Scripture we do understand those Canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.

Here we see the content and purpose of Scripture defined. the material is the Old and New Testament; the purpose is “Salvation.” Further, the article describes the Holy Scripture as authoritative for salvation. That said, the article leaves off specifying the way that Scripture is capable of containing all things necessary for salvation. In other words, how human written words are considered Holy. How can human words communicate all that is necessary for salvation? To answer this question, we need to consider how Scripture is situated in God’s work of salvation for humanity and the world, what is often called the economy of salvation.

In considering What Scripture is, I will turn to John Webster, who has written profoundly and extensively on the nature of Scripture. His reflection on the doctrine of Scripture began in earnest in 2003 when he published Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch. While I have not studied his writing in depth, there seems to have been some development and refinement between then and more recent essays. Thus, I am drawing on a later essay where he articulates the ontology of Scripture as a part of the economy of God’s outer works.

The Triune God’s Divine Economy

To articulate a theology of Scripture, we must start with the triune God, and see how Scripture relates to God. In Theology, we distinguish between God in himself (Theology proper), and the divine economy, God’s work in the world (from creation to consummation).  Webster distinguishes between these two aspects of theology in the following.

Systematic Theology has a single but not simple object: God and all things relative to God…The one complex matter may therefore be divided into (1) God absolutely considered, that is, considered in himself in his inner life as Father, Son, and Spirit (theology), and (2) God relatively considered, that is, considered in his outer works and in relation to his creatures (economy) (God without Measure, I.45-46).

Webster describes in more detail what the divine economy is in four points: 1) The divine economy is grounded in the immanent perfection of the Holy Trinity. 2) The divine economy unfolds as the history of fellowship in which creatures are summoned to know and love God.  3) The divine economy includes the history of redemption. 4) In all this, the divine economy is revelatory (The Dominion of the Word, 117-118). This final point grounds Webster’s next move: The divine economy, the mission of the Son and Spirit reveal God, and this revelation is mediated in a particular form:

The work of Word and Spirit, through which God gives creatures a share in his knowledge of himself, is mediated through creaturely auxiliaries. of these, Holy Scripture is the chief; through its ministry of the divine Word in the Spirit’s power, God makes himself known and loved (ibid., 120).

Webster started with God’s infinite being, which is the source and end of the God’s outer works of creation and redemption, which reveal who God is. This economic work is the mission of the Son and Spirit. The Son and Spirit make God known through the creaturely auxiliaries of the Scriptures. What is the nature of these Scriptures?

Scripture

Webster describes Scripture “as prophetic and apostolic testimony” (ibid., 120). It functions as “a unified set of creaturely communicative acts having their origin in God’s calling and authorizing certain persons in the communion of the saints” (ibid., 120). In other words, God calls, forms and sends  prophets and apostles (the Old and New Testament writers) as special ambassadors of God’s own Word. So we have specific people who God chooses as creaturely instruments to communicate God’s self-revelation. How do these writing become Holy Scripture?

“Holy Scripture is the textual settlement of this embassy. In it, prophetic and apostolic speech is extended to into the church’s present… Scripture is a creaturely reality ordered to divine communication” (ibid., 120).  So God providentially commisions, forms, and orders the life and writings of the prophets and apostles to communicate who God is and what God is doing. Thus the Scriptures are a human text, but human texts ordered by God with the distinct purpose of communicating and revealing God.

In his book, Holy Scripture,  Webster describes this reality in terms of the creaturely text being ‘sanctified’ by which he means: “the biblical texts are creaturely realities set apart by the triune God to serve his self-presence” (21).

To expand on this notion of creaturely realities being used by God to communicate himself, Webster offers the Lord’s Supper as a parallel example:

Bread and wine are signs in the economy of salvation; by them, the ascended Christ distributes the benefits of his saving achievement, comforting, and nourishing his people by his presence. These functions do not detract from the created materiality of the elements, but indicate, rather, that such created realities are taken up into the divine service. So also Holy Scripture: prophetic and apostolic words are no less creaturely for being servants of the divine Word; indeed, their creaturely nature is therein fulfilled. (The Dominion of the Word, 121).

This analogy is stronger than the Analogy of the incarnation because it simultaneously holds the creaturely reality of the writings of the Old and New Testament, while confessing that through God’s providential and sanctifying work, i.e., the mission of the Son and Spirit these words are ordered and used to communicate divine revelation.

How, precisely, do these prophetic and apostolic words in the Scripture exist as creaturely servants to the divine Word? Webster responds: “Scripture is ‘inspired’ in the sense that its entire course (from pretextual tradition to canonization, including supremely the work of textual production) is superintended by the Spirit” (Ibid., 121).

This is profoundly significant for dismantling the dualism we talked about earlier: either fully divine texts (humans merely writing what they hear from God verbally) or fully human texts. The Holy Scriptures are human texts written by divinely commission Prophets and Apostles, which communicate the Divine Revelation of the Triune God while remaining creaturely in nature. The whole process of the writing of these texts is understood to be inspired by the Holy Spirit who is the proper author of the texts; though he never supersedes or overrides the creature in the inspiring process. The Holy Spirit’s work of superintending the creation and writing of Scripture is what it means for Scripture to be inspired.

Conclusion

Scripture is God-breathed, it is the Word of God written, but it is this by means of God’s providentially ordering, sanctifying and inspiring commissioned prophets and apostles by the Holy Spirit to communicate the Word of God through in and with the words of Scripture.

When we see how Scripture fits into the greater economy of God’s work, the purpose of Scripture is made more explicit by its nature. God uses human creaturely realities to bring about his purpose and will; just as the Lord’s Supper communicate grace and life to Christians, so the Holy Scriptures communicate to believers the truth of who God is, who we are and what God has done and is doing to save us.

Quotes from the Fathers and Mothers of the Christian Faith: Augustine On the Love of God the Father

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I think one of the hardest things for people to get about Christianity is the love of God the Father. The images throughout history of a wrathful, angry, miserly, simply pissed off God the Father, are frequent enough that he ends up as a trope in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It was perhaps wise of the Eastern Church to refuse to paint him, and the Reformation Church to cast aside all depiction to avoid misunderstanding (at the very least). This angry Zeus image is often countered by a placid, loving grampa or cosmic jolly Santa Claus.

I’ve struggled with seeing God the Father as loving; his love always felt conditional. The possibility of him blowing up at the slightest misstep always kept me on my toes, my knees, as I resented him for being so angry.

I tried to self-medicate the broken image of The Father by imagining him as my “Abba” my Dad, but it only worked in starts and fits. It always felt like that angry God was lurking behind ‘Abba.’ After a long time, however, I’ve slowly come to see God as he is revealed in Jesus Christ: The eternal Loving Father who love me, and the world, enough to deal with my sin and my shame.

My journey through this will take too long to account in this post, but I think that this quote from Augustine summarizes how I’ve come to see my eternal, loving, heavenly Father.

The love, therefore, wherewith God loveth, is incomprehensible and immutable. For it was not from the time that we were reconciled unto Him by the blood of His Son that He began to love us; but He did so before the foundation of the world, that we also might be His sons along with His Only-begotten, before as yet we had any existence of our own.

Let not the fact, then, of our having been reconciled unto God through the death of His Son be so listened to or so understood, as if the Son reconciled us to Him in this respect, that He now began to love those whom He formerly hated, in the same way as enemy is reconciled to enemy, so that thereafter they become friends, and mutual love takes the place of their mutual hatred, but we were reconciled unto Him who already loved us, but with whom we were at enmity because of our sin. Whether I say the truth on this, let the apostle testify, when he says: “God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

He, therefore, had love toward us even when we were practicing enmity against Him and working iniquity; and yet to Him it is said with perfect truth, “Thou hatest, O Lord, all workers of iniquity.” Accordingly, in a wonderful and divine manner, even when He hated us, He loved us; for He hated us, in so far as we were not what He Himself had made; and because our own iniquity had not in every part consumed His work, He knew at once both how, in each of us, to hate what we had done, and to love what He had done. Tractates on John cx.6. 

 

There are a few things that this passage hits just right on the head:

  1. The Father’s love is not dependent on the Son’s work of reconciliation. He loved us from before the creation of the world. In fact, his love, as Augustine says is ‘immutable’ unchanging. That is indeed good news.
  2. The Son’s work of reconciliation was not because the Father hated us. Instead, it is because the Father loved us in our sin and estrangement. We were dead in our iniquity, and in his love, God the Faher sent his only beloved Son to rescue us. We were created good, and God the Father with his Son and Spirit, saved us from the deformity of sin, not to make us loveable but because he loved us, and wanted to make us lovely once more.
  3. Because God is our creator and Savior, because he knows what we were created for, he can hate the sin in us, while loving the one he created to be with him and without sin. He hates the deformity in us, with the goal of saving and healing it, and he loves us who have been deformed, again in order to make us new.

While Augustine does not hit on wrath in this quote, I think it is worth saying something about that in conclusion. There are a few misconceptions about wrath, first that it is somehow a particular feature of the Father – that caricature again. It is more appropriate to attribute wrath to the Father, Son, and Spirit together. The Triune God is wrathful against sin, not just the Father. Further, Wrath is perhaps better understood as a sub-attribute of God’s love, rather than an eternal attribute. God is eternally existing in the abundance and plentitude of his Triune life. God freely creates out of this life, and in that creation, sin comes about in creaturely rebellion against God. God’s eternal attitude towards his creation is love and grace, presented in the fact that he sustains creatures existence. Wrath is God’s love turned against the rebellion and destruction of his good creation. Thus, wrath is an attribute of his love that arises in the external works of God in his creation. God hates the sin, has wrath against it, while loving the creature he created – to the point of destroying sin in us. Finally, the triune God’s wrath against sin is poured out in Jesus Christ on the cross against our sin and death. The work of Christ death was a Triune action to deal with sin and death in the context of the Trinity’s own eternal and abundant life.

(I submit these thoughts without an expectation that I am right in all cases. I share these thoughts in submission to the Lord of the universe, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to his Scriptures, and for the edification of the Church).

Jesus as the Greater Jonah: Mark 4:35-41

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Introduction: 

While I was preparing my sermon for this past Sunday, I noticed that some commentators perceived some parallels between this pericope of Scripture and Jonah. I want to follow this thought up, but I don’t have space for it in my sermon.

In my sermon, I show that in Mark 4:35-41 Jesus reveals himself as the Creator and Savior of unbelieving disciples. In this reflection, my goal is to first note the connections between the Jonah story and the calming of the sea – both parallels and contrasts – and then ask how these connections help further our understanding of Jesus revealing himself as Creator and Savior. Additionally, I will consider how Jonah as a type of Christ calls us to read the calming of the Sea as a figure of Christ’s death and resurrection.

The Passages of Scripture:

Jonah 1:

1 Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil[a] has come up before me.” 3 But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.

4 But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up.5 Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. 6 So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.”
7 And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 Then they said to him, “Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” 9 And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” 10 Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them.
11 Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. 12 He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.” 13 Nevertheless, the men rowed hard[b] to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them. 14 Therefore they called out to the Lord, “O Lord, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.” 15 So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. 16 Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.
17 [c] And the Lord appointed[d] a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Mark 4:35-41
35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

The Call:

To begin, note that God called Jonah to be a prophet of Israel to Nineveh. In its original context, Jonah is understood as representative of how Israel was supposed to be a witness to the whole world. Israel was called to be a witness to the world of Yahweh and his mighty deeds. Jonah’s flight from God and his mission signifies Israel’s rejection of God and his call on them.

Jesus too was commissioned by God as a prophet – first to Israel and then the world – but unlike Jonah, Jesus does not flee the presence of God. He is, in fact, the very presence of God in the unbelieving world. Jesus does what Jonah refused to do, he obeys God. In this way, we see that Jesus figures how Israel was supposed to be; he recapitulates Israel’s faithlessness with his faithfulness.

The Storm: 

Jonah flees God, but God’s presence is not so easily escaped. The fact that Jonah thought he could flee God’s presence shows how limited his understanding of God was. The boat is caught in a great storm, and while the crew fights for their lives, Jonah is asleep in the boat. Sleep, in Scripture, often figures death. It is possible that this points to Jonah’s own spiritual deadness, or foreshadows what is about to happen to him. The crew wakes Jonah up so that he can call upon his God for help. As the narrative continues we see that Jonah realizes that the crew will die because of his unfaithfulness, he eventually convinces them to cast him into the sea, and they do. The storm calms, and the pagan gentiles worship the God of Israel in fear and thankfulness. The irony should not be missed, that even as Jonah flees his mission, God uses his waywardness to bring sinners to repentance.

In Mark 4 we see Jesus asleep through the storm, just like Jonah. But his sleep was not one of spiritual deadness or avoidance of God, rather it was one of quiet presence. Jonah didn’t escape the presence of God, and neither had the disciples been abandoned by God. Jesus was asleep in the boat,  and the disciples come to Jesus in fear, just as the crew came to Jonah. However, the disciples did not look for salvation or even a prayer from Jesus, they merely wanted help. Despite their unbelief, Jesus causes the storm to immediately cease. The unbelief of the disciples is turned into fear, much like the fear of the crew on Jonah’s boat. For both crews, the fear was provoked by a unilateral revelation of God and his power. But unlike Jonah’s crew, the disciples do not worship God, they still do not understand who he is. If Jesus is the true Israel, the disciples represent Isreal in its disbelief and spiritual deadness. They, like Jonah, did not really know who the Lord God of Isreal was.

When we read these two stories together, we see Jesus fulfilling the ministry that Jonah and Israel, was called to, i.e., to be witnesses of Yahweh. But more than that we see that someone greater than Jonah has come, God, himself, has come to save the world. This salvation is demonstrated by Jesus saving his unbelieving disciples, which signify unbelieving Isreal and the world. In the end, Jesus is the greater Jonah.

The Two Sleeper’s Death?   

The fact that both Jonah and Jesus slept during the storm should cause us to pause. For Jonah, his sleep shows his lack of spiritual sensitivity – his spiritual deadness- to God’s presence and his providential judgment on his flight. This sleep is continued in his descent into the turbulent waters where he spent three days in the belly of a great fish. Traditionally, this has been understood as a kind of death. It is only after dying and rising that Jonah completes his mission from God. In its context, Jonah’s death points to the death of exile that Isreal experienced as God’s judgment for their unfaithfulness.

Is it possible that Jesus’ sleep, read in light of Jonah’s sleep-death further fills out the revelation of his Lordship as creator and savior? I suggest that the parallel between the two sleepers leads us to see Jesus’s sleep as a foreshadowing of his death and resurrection, where he ultimately saves the whole world from death and disbelief. If Jesus’s sleep points to his death and resurrection, it follows that this passage shows us that Jesus’s work of salvation is ultimately grounded in his death and resurrection. It is because of his death and resurrection that he saves and delivers those who call upon him even in their disbelief and fear.

Conclusion: 

Whether this is a helpful, fair, or good reading of the Calming of the Sea is up for debate. However, I do think it helps to highlight the depth of this event as something more than just a fancy miracle, but as a theophany of God’s whole plan of Salvation: The Creator and Redeemer saves the ungodly. Reading it in light of Jonah’s sleep/death can help us see the depth of the revelation: that it is only in the death of Jesus Christ that the fullness of salvation is brought to bear upon the ungodly.