Tag Archives | redemption

From Pentecost to the Triune God | Steven M. Studebaker

The cover of Studebaker's From Pentecost to the Triune GodIt should go without saying in 2017, but in case you haven’t heard, pentecostal scholarship has come of age. The days when pentecostals only focused on the Luke-Acts canon (as fruitful as it is) are over. From Pentecost to the Triune God is an exemplar of current pentecostal thought. In it, Steven M. Studebaker presents a full-orbed theology of the Trinity that gives the role of the Spirit its proper place.

Experience and the Spirit of Christ

From Pentecost to the Triune God falls into three sections. In section one (chapters 1 and 2), Studebaker argues for the importance of bringing experience to exegesis. “Since the ancient Israelites reflected on their formative religious experiences, so can contemporary Pentecostals (and all Christians)” (19). Next he turns his attention to the overarching role of the Spirit throughout the entire canon. A survey of scripture shows that the Spirit’s activity has three characteristics: liminal, constitutional, and eschatological. Theses three characteristics are exhibited in the three main narrative roles: creation-redemption, the life of Jesus, and Pentecost. This chapter is a must-read for pneumatology students of all stripes.

The array of three characteristics spread across three narrative roles leads to nine sections full of insight into the Spirit. I’ll share one of them in this review: the constitutional role of the Spirit in the life of Jesus. Theologians often describe the Trinity in terms of procession. The Son proceeds from the Father and the Spirit proceeds either from the Son or the Father and the Son. This understanding of the Trinity can lead to a Logos Christology which subordinates the Spirit. Studebaker points out that twice in scripture that the Spirit is named the “Spirit of Christ” (Romans 8:9, 1 Peter 1:11). The simple genitive construction can have two meanings:

  1. “Of” can mean source—the Spirit which proceeds from Christ. This underscores a Logos Christology.
  2. “Of” can mean origin—the Spirit which is the “source of the incarnation of Jesus Christ” (82). This opens the door for a Spirit Christology to be developed.

The same Spirit which hovered over the surface of the waters and played a constitutive role in creation hovered over Mary’s womb and played a constitutive role in the incarnation. It’s important to note that Studebaker does not develop his Spirit Christology in order to replace Logos theology, the doctrine of processions, or even the mutual love model. His Spirit Christology adds to the richness of our understanding of the Trinity, underscoring the Spirit’s personhood.

Trinitarian Theology Through the Ages

Trinitarian theology has a lengthy pedigree. In the second section (chapters 3-5), Studebaker delves into the history of Trinitarian theology and evaluates various traditions in light of the theology he developed in the second chapter.

Studebaker delves deep. He considers the roots of Eastern and Western Trinitarianism before moving to the Reformation, Evangelicalism, and Charismatic theologies. Using a variety of dialogue partners representative of the various positions, he considers the strengths and weaknesses of the various views before suggesting what his theological vision has contribute.

World Religions and Environmentalism

The final two chapters are a test drive of Studebaker’s freshly envisioned theology. In “The Spirit of Pentecost and Theology of Religions,” he offers a provocative view that will challenge the presuppositions of many pentecostals. Arguing exegetically that the Spirit was indeed poured out upon all flesh (not just believers), it follows that anyone who responds to the Spirit of Christ (regardless of their religion) will be saved.

The scope of the creative-redemptive work of the Spirit of Pentecost is universal. The Spirit is always seeking to initiate people into and to develop in them a fuller experience of the Spirit of Pentecost. (239)

It’s worth noting that Studebaker is not a Universalist. Although the outpouring of the Spirit is universal, human response to the Spirit of Pentecost is not. This understanding of the Spirit will enable Christians to re-envision mission not as a way carry Jesus to places he’s never been, but as a way to participate in the mission of the Spirit of Pentecost.

The final chapter considers creation care. If creation-redemption is one act of the Spirit, then the theological separation of common and special grace is a fiction. “The Spirit’s work does not have two orders—creation and redemption—but one, the redemption of creation” (261). It follows that creation care is a way of participating in the work of the Spirit who filled the liminal space between chaos and order, played a constitutive role in creation-redemption, and brought all things to eschatological fulfilment at Pentecost.

[F]ew Pentecostal and evangelical Christians consider creation care as an arena of the Spirit’s work and, much less, as a form of sanctification and path of discipleship. However, creation care, no less than the traditional disciplines of Christian formation, is a way that Christians can “keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25). In other words, buying organic fair-trade coffee and turning the heat down may be just as much a way “to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” as praying, attending church, and fasting ( Phil. 2:12). (262)

From Pentecost to the Triune God is more than theology for Pentecostals—it’s a detailed and inspiring look at the life of the Trinue God from the perspective of its least-recognized person.

Studebaker, Steven M. From Pentecost to the Triune God: A Pentecostal Trinitarian Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012.

Kingdom Conspiracy | Scot McKnight

The cover of McKnight's Kingdom ConspiracyKingdom Conspiracy brings some much needed clarity to an important question: what is the relationship between the church and the kingdom of God?

During the twentieth century, the rise of the social gospel and liberation theology has created an environment where people feel free to disdain the local church while at the same time claiming to serve the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God has in turn become a very vague notion. In modern terms:

Kingdom means
good deeds
done by good people (Christian or not)
in the public sector
for the common good. (4)

In harsher terms:

Contemporary kingdom theology tends mostly to be liberation theology articulated by white people on behalf of the oppressed and poor and marginalized, who (by the way) more often than not have themselves moved beyond anything whites have to offer. (254)

For McKnight, this anemic kingdom isn’t good enough. He believes, simply stated, church = kingdom.

Kingdom mission is church mission, church mission is kingdom mission, and there is no kingdom mission that is not church mission. (96)

The kingdom of God is made up of citizens who serve the king. While people outside the kingdom can do many good things—some that even coincide with kingdom values—they cannot do kingdom work. All genuine kingdom work is more than social.

Kingdom mission offers holistic salvation in the context of the church of the redeemed, those who are being redeemed and those who will be redeemed. Kingdom mission forms communities of the redeemed. Any kingdom mission that does not offer this kind of redemption is not kingdom mission. (158)

One underlying concept in the book was the story of the kingdom. We are used to thinking of the story of the kingdom in terms of creation-fall-Israel-Jesus-church (as N. T. Wright memorably put it, a five act play in which we are improvising the final act). McKnight takes a different approach: A-B-A’.

  • A: God rules the world as king
  • B: God allows Israel to have a human king, culminating in David
  • A’: God rules the world again in King Jesus

This simplified approach to the kingdom story is interesting to think through, although I find Wright’s five acts more compelling.

Kingdom Conspiracy is a great resource for Christians who want to think biblically and honestly about their engagement in the world.

—Scot McKnight, Kingdom Conspiracy (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2014).

Torrance’s Incarnation 2.2: The incarnation and the new Israel

The cover of Torrance's Incarnation

In the New Testament we see God’s covenant in its perfect form. God provided from within Israel and within humanity the fulfillment of his covenant. In Jesus, God comes as the Son (reconciliation) and the Word (revelation)—one “mighty act of the incarnation” (57).

The Word made flesh

In Jesus, the Word became flesh. We need to consider these three important words.

“Word” in the Old Testament is dabar which carries two meanings. It refers to the back or hinterground of something as well as a thing or event itself. When John said that the Word became flesh, he has the tabernacle in mind. It had an outer and inner (hinterground) court. Within the innermost inner court was the ark which housed God’s dabar—the 10 Commandments or debarim (words, history). It’s not surprising to see, in John, Jesus refer to himself twice as the temple.

For the Word to become “flesh” means that “the Word fully participates in human nature and existence” (61). The flesh he became was the flesh of humanity, which he sanctified as he assumed it. “While he, the holy Son of God, because what we are, he became what we are in a different way from us” (63) because he was without sin.

The process by which the word “became” flesh is an utterly unique and “ultimately unfathomable” event whereby the Creator creates creatures out of nothing then chooses to become one of the creatures he made (talk about paradox)! You can look at this event from two perspectives. As the Word condescended to take on our flesh, our flesh was thereby exalted. Reconciliation didn’t begin at the cross—it was rooted in the incarnation. The word “became” refers to a completed event, but this “historical happening remains eternally real and alive” (67, emphasis in the original).

The Son become servant

“Word become flesh” isn’t sufficient enough to fully convey what Jesus did, so we have the additional metaphor of Son become servant. Three Old Testament motifs explain this.

The first motif is servant-son. Jesus refers to this by the title, Son of Man. Drawing from the servant songs of Isaiah along with other passages, we see Jesus (like Israel) as the beloved son and servant of God.

The second motif is ben-bayith or “the son of the house”. This Old Testament expression is used in two senses. It can refer to the son/heir of a household or to the servant of the house who is in charge of the affairs of the household. Joseph in Egypt was referred to in this second sense. Moses was also referred to as ben-bayith in this second sense in the house of God. Jesus is a ben-bayith like Moses, although he transcended the category of servant and was also the son/heir.

The third motif was Adam as son of God. Jesus, like Adam, is God’s son but Jesus did the exact opposite of Adam. Adam took purity and sinned. Jesus took “Adam’s rebellious existence” (73) and condemned sin in the flesh. In doing so, Jesus demonstrated what a true man was.

The classic passage on “Son become servant” is Philippians 2. Although it’s popular to read ekenōsen as “emptying”—that Jesus somehow emptied himself of the independent use of his divine prerogatives, the text doesn’t go that far. It either means “made himself of no reputation” (KJV) or that he emptied himself out of his heavenly form into his earthly form. The humbling of Jesus is the point here. Although there are many texts which tell us about the incarnation, we are never hold how God did it. “that is the miracle of the Holy Spirit” (76, emphasis in the original).

The Descent and ascent of the Son

The liturgical language of descent and ascent the Old Testament is used in the New Testament to speak of baptism. The descent and ascent of Christ, however, is the turning point of this language. He descended to our level in revelation and reconciliation, then ascended “wearing our redeemed humanity and presented it in himself before the face of the Father” (77).

Jesus’ descent was a movement of revelation where the Word of God became a beggar to convince other beggars that God sought to forgive him. More than this, Jesus offered this “actual pardon and reconciliation” (77).

Jesus’ descent was also a movement of reconciliation where the Son of God entered the sin and guilt in humanity’s heart and defeated it.This movement of reconciliation requires that we respond in humiliation and confession.

It’s important to remember that Jesus didn’t accomplish all this by his death alone. Reformers spoke of Jesus’ active and passive obedience to stress that his life, as well as his death, mattered. Jesus actively obeyed his Father in perfect obedience. He passively obeyed by choosing to bear death on our behalf. This is important for us in that both his active and passive obedience was vicarious. “Justification means not simply the non-imputation of our sins through the pardon of Christ, but the positive sharing in his human righteousness” (81). Viewed this way, redemption is far more than a mere forensic category.

Some Reflections

That atoning exchange (where Jesus was made, by way of substitution, sin) begins right away with the incarnation, with its assumption of our flesh of sin, its condemnation of sin in the flesh, its sanctification of our humanity through the gift of divine righteousness and sanctification of man in Christ. (63)

We are saved therefore not only by the death of Christ which he suffered for our sakes but by his vicarious life which he lived for our sakes. (81)

This is a new thought for me. My theological furniture was neatly organized into separate rooms—incarnation then atonement. Torrance teases out the implications of incarnation here and recognizes that Jesus’ very assumption of our sinful flesh is the start of the reconciliation of humanity to God which is completed on the cross.

I suppose this would also give new energy to a salvific understanding of Jesus’ life and ministry also. Unlike the creeds, I don’t think it’s enough to state, “he lived, he died, he rose” without taking his teaching seriously.

True man does not sin. True man is man answering in truth the word of God addressed to mankind. Men and women who commit sin, who disobey the word of God, have fallen from their humanity into inhumanity. (73)

This idea has always fascinated me—that sin is dehumanizing. I can’t remember if it was C. S. Lewis or N. T. Wright where I first heard it, but it has stuck with me. If sin is a result of the fall which takes us away from the source of life itself, then sin makes us somehow less than human.

← 2.1: The incarnation and the old Israel
2.2b: Outline of the doctrine of the person of Christ →

The Dead Redeemed | Wendell Berry

I imagine the dead walking, dazed, into a shadowless light in which they know themselves altogether for the first time. It is a light that is merciless until they can accept its mercy; by it they are at once condemned and redeemed. It is Hell until it is Heaven.

—Wendell Berry, A World Lost in Three Short Novels, 326.

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