The Grasshopper Myth | Karl Vaters

The cover of Vaters' The Grasshopper MythThe low price of oil has dampened the Canadian economy. According to a London Free Press article, our GDP during the first three months of this year (2015) contracted by 0.6%, when it was expected to increase by 0.3%. Leah Schnurr of Reuters writes, “It was … the first time Canada’s economy has failed to expand since the second quarter of 2011, which saw zero growth.”

This analysis reflects the view of our society at large: if you’re not growing (i.e. if the numbers are not increasing), then something is horribly wrong. Many church leaders operate from this usually unspoken assumption. When the numbers we submit on our Annual Church Life Report don’t edge up, we get nervous and wonder what could be wrong.

Karl Vaters challenges this view head on in The Grasshopper Myth. The small churches of the world (which he defines as churches of 25-350 people) have a critical role to play in God’s redemptive plan. They have a strategic advantage in their ability to try new things, to reinvent themselves, and to train people to serve who might not get a chance in a more excellence-driven large church.

It’s time for small church pastors and leaders to stop feeling insecure in the level of their metrics and to develop a great small church. Vaters encourages pastors to proudly own the size of their church by taking a photo and displaying it on his Nametag Wall.

This is a motivational book with ministry insight. If you know a small church pastor who feels defeated, this book is medicine for the soul.

We do need to move further. Now that the case has been persuasively made for the legitimacy of the small church, I would love to see more literature focuses on how to maximize the strengths of the small church. Perhaps a sequel is in order.

—Karl Vaters, The Grasshopper Myth (USA: New Small Church, 2012).

Torrance’s Incarnation 6.2: The Hypostatic Union in Revelation and Reconciliation

The cover of Torrance's IncarnationThe hypostatic union—the indivisible unity of the divine and human nature in Christ—is a more intimate union than the one flesh union of marriage. This union happens within one person. In this union, these two natures cannot be separated or confused. “God remains God and man remains man, and yet in Christ, God who remains God is for ever joined to man, becomes man and remains man” (191).

We need to consider how this hypostatic union relates to revelation and reconciliation.

a) The hypostatic union of God and man in one person is the heart of revelation and its full substance

Because the Word became flesh, God has revealed himself to us in a way that we can understand—from within our humanity. In taking on our humanity, he has also taken on our language, so that his language about God is genuine revelation.

We can only know God by analogy. However, in Jesus Christ, we have a filled analogy. We understand God in terms of human images precisely because in Jesus Christ, God and man are united.

b) The hypostatic union of God and man in one person is the heart of reconciliation and its full substance

If God were to reveal himself to us in majesty we would die. In the incarnation, God veiled his majesty in flesh, humiliation, and death, so that he might draw close to save us. By veiling himself he “sinlessly assumed our flesh” (195) into himself and saved us. Jesus did this from the side of God and from the side of man.

It’s important here to remember that Jesus’ united nature is indivisible. If we could divide the two, then his human acts wouldn’t be divine, and his divine acts wouldn’t be human. If we could divide the two, then our nature would be unassumed and unreconciled.

c) Outline of the main stages in the development of the doctrine of Christ and of the hypostatic union

There are seven major stages in the church’s understanding of the nature of Christ:

  1. The Council of Nicaea (AD 325): Jesus is truly God.
  2. The Council of Constantinople (AD 381): Jesus is perfectly man.
  3. The Council of Ephesus (AD 431): Jesus is one person.
  4. The Council of Chalcedon (AD 451): Jesus has two distinct natures.
  5. The Council of Constantinople (AD 680): Jesus possessed both a human and divine will.
  6. The Reformation: The doctrine of Christ was stated more in terms of Christ’s saving and reconciling mission.
  7. Early Scottish Theology and Barthian Theology: Anhypostasia and enhypostasia are brought together to stress that the Jesus of history is the Son of God.

Some Reflections

All other analogies are empty, and contain nothing of God, but Jesus Christ is filled analogy, analogy where the content and substance lie in the hypostatic union of God and man in Christ. (193)

Any thoughtful person quickly realizes that we cannot understand God except by analogy. God’s arm is strong to save, but we don’t assume he has a physical arm. That is, until we meet Jesus. In Jesus, the analogies through which we understand God are “filled.” We actually encounter the analogies we use.

The very humanity of Christ is the veiling of God; the flesh of sin, the humiliation and the form of a servant, the death of Christ all veil god – and so God draws near to us under that veil in order to reveal himself, and save us. (194)

When God revealed himself to Elijah, he tucked him into a crevasse in the rock and allowed him to see his backside as he passed by. It was understood that to see God meant death—his glory is simply too overwhelming. When Ezekiel saw a vision of God, he collapsed and could only stand when the Spirit lifted him to his feet again.

In Jesus, we can look on the face of God and live. This veiling of God reminds me of Jesus’ parable about “the least of these.” We look back in time and question why people couldn’t see Jesus for who he really was—God incarnate, God veiled in flesh. I wonder if we are able to recognize him veiled in the faces of those who need our help today?

← 6.1: The Humanity and the Deity of Christ

Sticky Teams | Larry Osborne

The cover of Osborne's Sticky TeamsLarry Osborne is a proven commodity. He has pastored all different sizes and styles of churches including North Coast Church in San Diego. If you’re going to read a book on leadership, you might as well read someone who has been through it all.

Sticky Teams is a highly practical easy-to-read book on developing the unity of your church’s leadership team. The chapters are written in such a casual conversational tone you feel like you’re in Osborne’s office—his mistakes and successes are in full view. The book is surprisingly comprehensive as well. Osborne begins by examining the elements of team unity and doesn’t stop until he gets to finances.

(Regarding finances, my philosophy of ministry is quite different from Osborne. Even so, his words made me question and think through why I do what I do.)

While Osborne has experience in all sizes of churches, this book is (naturally) skewed toward the larger church that has a bigger team to bring together. Leaders of any sized team, however, would do well to think through Osborne’s ministry life and learn.

—Larry Osborne, Sticky Teams (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010).

Homilies on the First Epistle of John | Saint Augustine

The Cover of Augustine's Homilies on the First Epistle of JohnFun fact: St. Augustine’s sermons on First John are our earliest extended work on this book of scripture. Preached in 407 during Easter Week, they focus strongly on the epistle’s main theme of “love” which he unpacks in detail. Here are some examples:

The greater the charity, the less the fear; the less the charity, the greater the fear. (135-6)

You shouldn’t think that you love … your neighbor when you don’t correct him. That isn’t charity but indifference. (112-3)

A wicked person, therefore, can have all these sacraments, but a person cannot be wicked and also have charity. (108)

Unfortunately for modern readers, Augustine spends a significant amount of time confronting the Donatists—a church schism with a strong belief in their people’s own moral purity. While germane to his time, his strong stance seems to undercut the message of brotherly love.

After reading his magisterial Confessions, these sermons felt a little lackluster. Still, they reflect the mind and heart of a brilliant theologian preaching for the benefit of his own people. We are blessed to be able to listen in some 1600 years later.

—Saint Augustine, Homilies on the First Epistle of John, Trans. Boniface Ramsey (New York: New City Press, 2008)

Grace & Nature | Peter Kreeft

peter-kreeftJust as light, because it transcends all colors rather than being a rival color, brings out and perfects all colors, so divine grace, since it transcends nature rather than rivaling it, perfects nature rather than setting it aside.

—Peter Kreeft, Summa Philosophica (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2012), 115.

Torrance’s Incarnation 6.1: The Humanity and the Deity of Christ

The cover of Torrance's IncarnationIn chapter 6, Torrance turns his attention directly to the hypostatic union. When we try to describe this in theological terms, we can fall into two different traps—we can emphasize Jesus’ eternal being at the expense of the historical person, or vice versa.

When patristic theologians attempted to describe this union, they didn’t say enough. They rightly guarded the doctrine from error by claiming that Jesus was fully God and fully man, but they didn’t say how these natures are united.

In developing a doctrine of the hypostatic union, we must be careful not to divorce Christology from Soteriology. Christ’s person is essential to his work. You cannot rightly expound one without the other.

1) The humanity and the deity of Christ

We’ll start with the humanity of Jesus. The stakes are huge. If Jesus is not fully human, then God has not reached out to us in fullness. If Jesus is not fully human, then God has not revealed himself to us like we had supposed. If Jesus is not fully human, then we are not really reconciled to God since it took full human obedience and sacrifice to reconcile us.

Next we consider the deity of Christ. The stakes are just as high. If Jesus is not God, then we have no assurance that God has forgiven us of our sins. If Jesus is not God, then we don’t know precisely who or what Jesus revealed to us (“he is the revelation he brings” (188)). If Jesus is not God, then the cross is a horrible act of God against a mere human.

Some Reflections

If Christ is not man, then God has not reached us, but has stopped short of our humanity – then God does not love us to the uttermost, for his love has stopped short of coming all the way to where we are, and becoming one of us in order to save us. But Christ’s humanity means that God’s love is now flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone, really one of us and with us. (185)

When Adam first encountered Eve, he broke into poetry and cried, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23 ESV). When Torrance used this formula at the climax of his paragraph on God’s love, it made me realize the reality to which the marriage union points. Considering all the prophetic texts concerning God’s “marriage” relationship to his wayward “Israel,” this is very powerful biblical connection.

Only God against whom we sin can forgive sin, but the deity of Christ is the guarantee that the action of Christ in the whole course of his life is identical with the action of God toward us. It is not something of God that we have in Christ, but God himself, very God of very God. (187)

This is critical. When we look at Jesus we don’t see aspects of God or elements of God. We apprehend God. When Jesus teaches us, offers his life for us, forgives us of our sins, it is God himself acting on our behalf.

Everything depends upon the fact that the cross is lodged in the heart of the Father. (189)

“The cross is lodged in the heart of the Father.” What a powerful phrase. If Jesus isn’t God, then the crux of Christianity is some mad version of child abuse. If Jesus is God, then we can truly see what sacrificial love means.

← 5: The Mystery of Christ