drinking deeply from the faith

The first title that came to mind when I was thinking of something of this post in general was “drinking deeply from the Christian tradition.” I like that title, and believe in what I would mean for it to convey. Usually I don’t concern myself much over titles of posts, but the title of this post is probably more directly related to its content than in many of my posts. Drinking deeply from the Christian tradition is important and we’re at a great loss when we don’t consider the history of the church from the very early church to the present day. There’s much wisdom for us to receive from the church mothers and fathers. And how the Spirit led the church through the centuries is something that we not only have to take into serious consideration, but in terms of the gospel and of the faith certainly has straightforward application for us, especially as expressed in the creeds, such as the Nicene Creed.

What I’m getting at in this post is just how we’re to live in the reality of the world, the flesh, and the devil, which are anything but faith friendly. Ironically this can be the very factor which helps us to find and learn to drink deeply from the faith that is ours in Jesus.

When I feel overwhelmed, or just burdened down about this or that, I by and by come to realize my own great need of pressing hard into the grace that is ours in Jesus, and seeking to live all the more through that, in the word and through the gospel. In a way, in the midst of it all, sometimes the pummeling that occurs in life, I can learn to relax by faith, and say to myself that through God’s grace in Jesus, all will be alright. That I may need to work through this or that, but to take one thing at a time, and above all seek to trust in God and God’s word through it all.

It is completely gift, the scriptural meaning of grace, in and through Jesus. But we have to make every effort to enter into this rest of faith, to live in God’s grace. This may mean almost feeling our way along at times in a kind of semi-darkness in which we have just enough light to keep us going. Maybe in seemingly complete darkness, crying out to God to be our light, and to give us light through his word.

We in Jesus need to learn to drink deeply from the faith, and to keep coming for more and more. Because that is nothing less than our life, and through our drinking others can come to receive that life as well, in and through Jesus.

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the need for both scripture and creed

Although I am thankful to say that I can cite much good from which we can learn, in spades in the ministry where I work with no bad examples there, there is pop theology you can find in many places elsewhere which is not sufficiently grounded in scripture or the great creeds of the church.

We need both scripture and creed in either order depending on what one means, both of paramount and critical importance for the church in its call to contend for the faith once for all entrusted to God’s people.

The “Ecumenical and Historic Christian Creeds” include probably the two most common: the Apostles and the Nicene Creed. The Anglican denomination of which we are a part is working on a new Book of Common Prayer which will be more in keeping with the 1662 edition and will incorporate “we believe” in place of “I believe” which overall I find more helpful (but that’s another subject). I’m looking forward to the release of that book. I highly value the creeds and liturgy, because these are the works of the church. No scripture is of private interpretation, we must be committed to the revelation the Spirit has given to the church both in terms of scripture’s initial reception which is actually given through the church one can say, in the first place, and its interpretation, hammered out in the midst of controversy over especially the early centuries of the church.

While first and foremost I would want to be identified as a follower of Jesus along with being a Christian in the orthodox sense, I am also an evangelical, committed to the gospel for life and witness, and committed to scripture as having primacy for our understanding. The revelation given to the church is a living witness, one the church continues to receive by the Spirit, and each of us who are in the church are a part of that reception process. My sense of this in terms of the Great Tradition would be more Roman Catholic than Eastern Orthodox in that I believe that the church can continue to grow in its understanding of the truth in the breadth of scripture. At the same time I think the gift from the Eastern Orthodox Church is valuable too in its good emphasis on scripture. Where I depart from both is what I suppose makes me an evangelical in the Protestant sense in that I don’t believe tradition is infallible in its totality, or necessarily even meant to be in terms of how it’s practiced. But everything pertaining to the gospel is in at least some sense infallible, since the gospel is both the heart and point of the story, of scripture itself.

I’m excited about the Institute for Bible Reading and a book written by one of its founders, Glenn R. Paauw, Saving the Bible from Ourselves: Learning to Read and Live the Bible Well. Some would say that we simply need to keep tethered to the Church and its teachings. I think it’s a matter of and/both, not either/or. The church itself needs to stay grounded in scriptures in accordance with “the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (Jude :3).

Trying to adhere to this will go a long way toward helping us avoid erroneous teaching such as the health and wealth gospel and pop theologies we sometimes see coming up like little weeds everywhere. What we want is the wheat, not the chaff. Vital for our own faith and witness in this world.

when we’re tired and worn down

Sometimes we either feel on the edge or pushed over the edge at least a bit. The pressures of life can seem relentless with little or no place to turn. That is when we probably need to slow down, to stop, to be still and quiet. To know that God is God.

Also to read. For me reading scripture and meditating on it, and remaining in it is so key. But just as key is the weekly service of liturgy which includes the scripture readings along with prayers, including corporate confession of sin along with the priest’s absolution, confession of the creed, and together partaking of the Lord’s body and blood in the Eucharist.

Sometimes we simply need that extra physical rest. Maybe a break from normal activities to sleep. We always like those occasional, or in the case of some of us, periodic, but not often enough for most of us get aways. And we need to learn how to do it when the normal routine is still pressing up against us. Not easy, but we do need to find our bearings, our strength in the Lord, learning to wait on him so that we are both strengthened and ennobled. To not only go on, but go on well in and through Jesus.

looking at the big picture (N. T. Wright’s work)

In a recent talk at Mars Hill Bible Church, N. T. Wright declared the need for more Christian scholars, who nearly inevitably nowadays will go after their doctorates, to do work which takes in consideration the big picture. Biblical or theological doctorate degrees are geared to specialization on small parts, knowing them thoroughly with the danger according to Wright that the big picture is missed altogether.  N. T. Wright went on to say (along with many other things, he could hold his own with the Apostle Paul and anyone else) that much of what is held to is true, but not seen in terms of the big picture.

Whether or not you accept “the new perspective,” or see in it anything which challenges the old, I think N. T. Wright’s challenge is good for us all. In my case I find myself in basic acceptance and agreement with it, from what I gather and understand. Of course “the new perspective on Paul” or in terms of Jesus, like other theological schools has adherents who disagree among themselves on various matters.

The big picture will have to take into account all of scripture from Genesis to Revelation. Fundamentally that can be enough for many of us, except that we never do anything at all in a vacuum, which points to a weakness in “sola-Scriptura.” The idea that scripture alone forms are view of truth has to be qualified to some extent to understand that we read it not in terms of what we understand, but in its own terms which includes ways of communicating and thinking we may miss altogether, given our own context. Yes, context as in philosophical and theological presuppositions will definitely play into our reading and understanding of scripture.

N. T. Wright is among those who argues that we need to do historical work around the texts of scripture, to help us understand. A well worn understanding within the new perspective is that Augustine and Luther were working on Paul more within their own contexts rather than in the context Paul lived in himself. And so, for example, they, especially Luther see a sharper dichotomy between faith and works than what is seen in scripture. Hence Luther’s complaint of James as a “right strawy epistle.”

The systematic theologian Kevin Vanhoozer, I take it without dismissing the new perspective, challenges N. T. Wright a bit on the insistence that history becomes a determining factor in arriving to the meaning of the text of scripture, saying that this could undermine the God-given role of tradition. From what I’ve read of N. T. Wright, he would want to maintain the role of tradition along with the need for ongoing historical studies. Wright within his Anglican tradition recites the creed daily, and sees it as something formed to respond to the challenges of its time, all of it being true. But that the gospels which in Wright’s view are essentially about how God became King in Jesus, in accordance with the promises fulfilled of the old covenant and through Israel, were filled in with details which the creeds skip altogether, zeroing in on Jesus birth, death, resurrection, ascension and return.

At any rate the challenge to see the big picture and to see it on its own terms is a good challenge for us all. We will end up seeing and understanding the parts that make up the whole much better if we can better understand the main point being made, or better put, the storyline of scripture. Not an easy undertaking, but one that can’t be shelved, even as we seek to understand the details of God’s great story fulfilled in and through Jesus.

why I love the creeds

I was raised in an Anabaptist low church tradition which knew nothing of the great creeds of the Church. My own early understanding on that was that it was religious, Catholic, and simply empty ritualistic recitation. Although mostly I just was unfamiliar with all of that.

Fast forward to the present day, and I find that I indeed love the creeds. Scot McKnight in his recent book on the gospel says that creeds are rooted in similar words of scripture. I think of 1 Timothy 3:16:

Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:

He appeared in the flesh,
was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
was taken up in glory.

Another passage I can’t help but think of in this connection, Philippians 2:5-11:

 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Scot McKnight in the book mentioned cites 1 Corinthians 15:1-28 in this connection, the well known Nicene Creed mirroring it. This passage mirrors the gospel accounts of Jesus: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Here is a version of the Nicene Creed:

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is,
seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became truly human.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

from the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.

There is a beauty in the cadence and wording of the creeds. Which helps us center on Jesus. And on the gospel in him. Yes, they may give short shrift to his life, although that is well arguably within the creed. Perhaps the church should consider adding a paragraph or sentence or two, which would explicitly bring that out.

It is wonderful to stand together, and say, “I believe…” Or my own preference: “We believe…” This great tradition is reflected in some degree and form in some of the great hymns we sing. Especially good to find such during this Advent season in which we remember the coming of our great King and Savior Jesus. God’s gift in him to us and to the world. Meant to be celebrated in poetry and song.

A great program on the creeds: “The Need for Creeds.” Krista Tippet interviews Jaroslav Pelikan, the world’s foremost scholar on the creeds of the Church.

I believe in the Holy Spirit

We affirm in the Apostles’ Creed our personal belief in the Holy Spirit, that belief further expanded in the 381 edition of the Nicene Creed.  But what does this really mean for us in Jesus?

At the heart of the Holy Spirit’s ministry in our lives is the help the Spirit brings us as a gift from the Father through the Son. To help us along the way in this life in the Jesus Way no less.

The help is detailed in clear specifics such as pouring out God’s love in our hearts, making known something of the depths or deep things of God. Helping us in our prayers. Gifting us for the building up of Christ’s Body. Making us a part together with others in Jesus of a temple glorifying God in this world. And more.

The help from the Spirit is also so close, and so intimate as to be hard to detail. Like our very life breath, breathing into us the very life of God. From which we live and move and have our being in and through Jesus.

This concerns not only our own life in God, but our life together in God through Jesus, and that life being made known to the world. It is in the Spirit, as well as in the Father and the Son. In fact the Spirit is the person, and indeed element likened to rivers of living water in which this life in God is lived, uniting us to the Father and the Son. A life lived out with each other in Jesus, and before and for the world in life, deed and word. A life of love in the truth as it is in Jesus.