Real Prophets | Peter Kreeft

The prophets are clearly not mild psychologists dispensing mild psychological remedies, or “feelgood” preachers dispensing self-esteem, but radical, insulting, negative, shocking, doom-threatening firebrands.

—Peter Kreeft, Summa Philosophica (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2012), 164.

Torrance’s Incarnation 5: The Mystery of Christ

The cover of Torrance's IncarnationJesus kept his messianic secret until the end of his ministry, so as not to be he be severely misunderstood. At the end, in the resurrection, the mystery was revealed. The New Testament writers reflect this mystery, especially in the glorified vision of Christ in Revelation. Paul proclaimed this mystery, too. He understood that the mystery of Christ existed from all eternity.

1) The mystery of Christ: mystērion, prothesis, koinōnia

The mystery of Christ is nothing less than Jesus Christ: God made flesh. Jesus revealed this mystery to his disciples, however imperfectly they understood it at first. This mystery was proclaimed by the apostles’ teaching.

The mystery concerns the purpose (prothesis) of God. Prothesis has two basic senses. It refers to the eternal purpose of God in bringing about Jesus Christ. It also refers to the setting-forth of Jesus. In this second sense, the word has “liturgical significance” (169). The mystery of Christ is continually set forth through word and sacrament.

Koinōnia also has two senses. It refers to our “participation through the Spirit in Jesus Christ” (171). It also refers to the fellowship of the church. In the church, we participate in the mystery of Christ. This is why the church is critical to our participation in the mystery of Christ. This mystery of Christ in fellowship is not only inserted into our knowledge as something we understand, but into our very being. “In a profound sense, atonement is the insertion of the union into the very being of our alienated and fallen humanity” (173).

2) The mystery of Christ and the holy Trinity

“What God is in Jesus Christ in relation to man, he is antecedently and eternally in himself” (175). We can examine the relationship between the mystery of Christ and the Trinity in two categories: pre-existence and election.

When Jesus prays “Father, glorify thou me in thy own presence with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made” (John 17:5 KJV), he directly refers to his pre-existence. If Jesus is the Son of God for us, then he must also be the Son of God for God. He is the eternal Son. This is not to say that Jesus’ humanity is eternal—that union began within human history. However, his humanity was “assumed into oneness with the eternal Son” (177).

The mystery of Jesus Christ was set forth by God in his election of the Son. This eternal election of the Son was revealed in human history. Even so, the election was not a singular event, but an eternal purpose.

Some Reflections

In its fullest and deepest sense, mystērion refers to the union of God and man eternally purposed in God, but now revealed and set forth in Jesus Christ as true God and true man in one person: a union which creates room for itself in the midst of our estranged humanity and through fellowship or communion gathers people, men and women and children, into one body with Jesus Christ. (164)

Quotes like this are what makes Torrance so powerful to read. Reread that quote. Think about it a bit. God’s eternal purpose: the God-man union in Jesus Christ “makes room” within our failing humanity and draws us to himself. What a stunning way to visualize what God has done in Jesus.

There is no participation vertically in the mystery of Christ except through horizontal fellowship in the mystery, but there is no horizontal fellowship except by joint participation vertically through the Holy Spirit in the mystery of Christ who is true God and true man. (172)

Despite being a pastor, this is a truth I discovered later in life. As a person who loves solitude, I used to long for an isolated relationship with Christ. I’ve learned that there is no relationship with Christ without relationship to his church. I’ve learned to love how those two relationships relate to each other. Derek Webb said it well in his song, The Church: “You cannot care for me with no regard for her. If you love me you will love the church.”

The humanity of Jesus was assumed into oneness with the eternal Son and shares eternally in the glory of the only begotten Son of God which he had before the world was created. (177)

What an incredible move for God! When Jesus assumed our humanity, it was assumed eternally. God loved us so much that he assumed our creatureliness in his own divinity, eternally.

← 4.3: The Life and Faithfulness of the Son Towards Man

I’ll Take You There | Greg Kot

The cover of Kot's I'll Take You ThereFull disclosure: I didn’t buy this book for Mavis’ sake. Other than the Jeff Tweedy penned, “You’re Not Alone,” I knew nothing of the Staples cannon. I bought this book because of the biographer.

Greg Kot’s understanding of music is immense. I’ve discovered a lot of music over the years through his “Sound Opinions” podcast (co-hosted with Jim DeRogatis). I’ve also enjoyed his Wilco biography, Learning How to Die and his commentary on the state of the music industry, Ripped.

I’ll Take You There was everything I had expected. Kot’s encyclopedic knowledge of music is on full display as he traces the evolution of Mavis Staples from her father’s early days in the South to the launch of the Staple Singers in Chicago to the later years with Jeff Tweedy.

While music is the main thread of the narrative, Kot dips richly into the history of racial discrimination and the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

This biography has inspired me to delve into the music of the Staple Singers. I’ve learned that songs like “I’ll Take You There” and “Let’s Do It Again” just scratch the surface of their ability. In Pops staples, I’ve found the dark tremolo-soaked guitar tone I’ve always been trying to achieve.

The Staple Singers are an important piece of the history of Gospel music. Kot handles their story with grace.

—Greg Kot, I’ll Take You There: Mavis Staples, The Staple Singers, and the March Up Freedom’s Highway (New York: Scribner, 2014).

Tasting Prayer | Tertullian

We do not take our places at the table until we have first tasted prayer to God.

—Tertullian in Ben Witherington III, Making a Meal of It: Rethinking the Theology of the Lord’s Supper (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2007), 105.

The End of Absence | Michael Harris

The cover of Harris' The End of AbsenceConsider this: if you were born in the 1980s, you’re part of the last generation of human history to experience what life was like before the Internet. Michael Harris wrote this book to explore what that means. In his words, we need to consider:

What will we carry forward? And what worthy things might we thoughtlessly leave behind? (15)

In the first half of the book Harris makes a compelling case for how drastically our always-on and always-connected culture is affecting us. This transformation has arrived so insidiously, we haven’t recognized it.

Think of that moment when the fridge shuts off, causing you to realize—in the silence that ensues—that you’d been hearing its persistent hum before. You thought you knew silence, but you were really surrounded by the machine’s steady buzz. Now multiply that sensation by the world. (109)

Anyone who has tried to turn of their technology for any length of time knows this feeling. This silence is a consequence of every major canoe trip I take—and something I have grown to cherish!

In the second half of the book, Harris explores how to respond to these changes. This is where Harris and I part ways. Instead of suggesting and exploring real ways to remain grounded and (at least at times) unconnected, he assumes the inevitability of the change and makes peace with it. After all, how could we possibly hook up without Internet dating sites?

The conclusion that gives him a sense of peace is unsatisfying for me:

Every technology will alienate you from some part of your life. That is its job. Your job is to notice. First notice the difference. And then, every time, choose. (206)

Immediately my mind went to Ellul in considering the effect this alienation has on those who resist—either by choice or by demographic. Nothing alienates our elderly like a world of constant connection.

The End of Absence is an insightful book that belongs on the shelf beside Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death and Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows. Read it and either mourn for what we’ve lost or consider how to forge a way ahead.

—Michael Harris, The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection (Toronto: HarperCollins, 2014).

Ceremonies and Symbols | Ben Witherington III

Ceremonies [like The Lord’s Supper], if one partakes of them in an open and worthy manner, are more than just sign language, more than just symbols. They are opportunities for a spiritual interchange that produces communion with Christ and with one another.

—Ben Witherington III, Making a Meal of It: Rethinking the Theology of the Lord’s Supper (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2007), 85.

The Magicians | Lev Grossman

The cover of Grossman's The MagiciansHarry Potter meets Narnia, the blurbers promised! What’s not to love?

The Magicians is a novel where a socially awkward kid finds out that he has amazing powers. The blurbers were right—almost to a fault. The first half of the book concerns a magician’s school while the second half explores alternate universes. Rowling meets Lewis, indeed! My only criticism was that the nods to Potter and Narnia felt too derivative at times. I quickly got over that.

This book gripped me from the first until the last page. Grossman has written a lead character that acts as realistically as you might expect in the situation he’s given. He makes the sort of decisions any one of us might make in the same circumstances.

The villain is truly terrifying and the magic system is complex and satisfying. I’m curious to see where the next books takes us!

—Lev Grossman, The Magicians (New York: Plume, 2009).

Traitor! | Jacques Ellul

If you see the powers of the world so well disposed, when you see the state, money, cities accepting your word, it is because you word, whether you are only a man of good will or an evangelist, has become false. For it is only to the extent that you are a traitor that the world can put up with you.

—Jacques Ellul, The Meaning of City, trans. Dennis Pardee (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1970), 37.