Sunday, August 10, 2014

Everything Rides on the Reality of the Resurrection

Everything rides on the reality of resurrection.

A general belief in the resurrection at the end of days is present in the Old Testament. For example, at the end of Daniel’s visions, there is a scene that seems very familiar to readers of the book of Revelation. In this scene, “there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book” (Dan 12:1). After this, “many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan 12:2). This vision affirms a belief in a general resurrection of all those who have died. The vision also affirms that there is to be some sort of judgment following the resurrection. Some will awake to glory, others to terror.

In the Gospels, Jesus also affirms the reality of a future resurrection. He also indicates his role in that resurrection. Jesus tells the crowds, “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day” (John 6:39). Jesus explains, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40). The belief in a general resurrection is given a specific profile by Jesus. Those who believe in the Son will not only awake, but they will awake in his presence.

Everything rides on the reality of resurrection.

One might ask, though, does Jesus really have this kind of power? Can this one really raise the dead at the end of days? The disciples might have asked this very question when Jesus tells them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him” (John 11:11). They don’t understand and think Jesus has misjudged the situation. He could not really mean that he was going to reverse the sting of death, could he? Standing outside the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus pictures this resurrection reality with a call that cuts through the complicated layers of doubt: “Lazarus, Come Out!” (John 11:43).

Just before this, Martha too had misunderstood. When Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again,” Martha thinks he is referring to the resurrection hope at the end of days. She says, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (John 11:24). Martha was right. She was simply not aware that Jesus was about to demonstrate the reality of what will take place on that day by putting on a display of resurrection life on this day. Her brother would rise again at the end of days, but he would also stand by her side again by the end of this day. To all those who would doubt that he has the power to bring about the resurrection on the last day, Jesus’ words breathe hope: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:26).

Paul’s gospel message includes this staggering hope in the resurrection. For him, the entire structure of our salvation in Christ rests on the reality of this reality. As he urges, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor 15:13). Paul insists on the necessity of the resurrection (1 Cor 15:12-28) even while recognizing the mystery of the resurrection (1 Cor 15:50-57).

If Christ has not been raised, then Christian faith is futile, believers are still stuck in their sin, and those who have died lay in those graves devoid of hope. “But in fact,” Paul counters, “Christ has been raised from the dead” (1 Cor 15:20). This fact means that he is the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.” (1 Cor 15:21). At this point, Paul makes the connection to eschatology. Because Christ rose from the grave, he can now return from the heavens. “Then comes the end,” Paul continues, “when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power” (1 Cor 15:25-26).

Do you grieve for those who have died trusting in Christ to save them? They are gone. We see them no longer. We can no longer hear them speak about their hope. We can no longer hear them speak, pray, or worship. Was their hope in vain? How can we know for sure if we can no longer see them?

Paul tells Thessalonian believers who wondered these very things, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. . . .The dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thess 4:13-16).

Everything rides on the reality of resurrection.

As Jesus asked standing in front of a Jewish tomb moments before he stuck a dagger through the heart of death, “Do you believe?”

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Friday, July 25, 2014

The Chastened Possibility of Theology

Systematic theology is indeed selective and limited in its scope. It does not say everything that can possibly be said about what has been revealed in the biblical revelation and received in Christian tradition. The loci are chosen in order to give the biggest payoff by covering the most material with a limited number of categories.

Theology is an attempt to say what we can, the most we can, and in the best way we can.
Mike Bird, Evangelical Theology, 61.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Focus of Evangelical Theology

What the word 'evangelical' will objectively designate is that theology which treats the God of the Gospel.

This is the God who reveals himself in the Gospel, who himself speaks to men and acts among and upon them. Wherever he becomes the object of human science, both its source and its norm, there is evangelical theology.
—Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology, 5-6.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Connecting All Doctrines to Soteriology

I believe one of the most fundamental theological axioms is that all doctrine should be intimately and clearly connected to soteriology.

It is a great mistake to isolate various Christian doctrines one from another, and this mistake is particularly dangerous when one is dealing with the trinitarian and Christological controversies. Too often these patristic debates are presented as if they were primarily attempts to arrive at the best philosophical vocabulary for speaking of God and Christ. But fundamentally, these debates were not about philosophy; they were about salvation.

I contend that at the deepest level, the church's thought process in the fourth and fifth centuries was an attempt to answer the question, "What does God have to be like in order to give us the kind of salvation that we Christians know (from Scripture and the Holy Spirit's witness) we have?"
—Donald Fairbairn, "The One Person Who is Jesus Christ: The Patristic Perspective," in Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective, 92.

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Monday, July 21, 2014

The Gospel in a Nutshell

The gospel is a story about Christ, God's and David's Son, who died and was raised and is established as Lord. This is the gospel in a nutshell.

And I assure you, if a person fails to grasp this understanding of the gospel, he will never be able to be illuminated in the Scripture nor will he receive the right foundation.
—Martin Luther, "A Brief Instruction on What to Look for and Expect in the Gospels," in Luther's Works, 35:118-19.

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Identity of the Jesus Preached

The authenticity of any reproduction of the gospel depends on the identity of the Jesus preached in that gospel.
—Mike Bird, Evangelical Theology, 49.

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Intrepid Lord

We have experienced the most frightful things, but man is not broken by the lords who are not the Lord.

Intrepidly he passes through the ruins and asserts himself against the earthly powers.
—Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline, 84.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

"The Gospel" as the Unifying Theme of Theology and the Rule of Faith for the Churches

Mike Bird ends his articulation and apology for the structure of his systematic theology (Evangelical Theology) by summarizing the reason why "evangelical theology" should be ordered by the gospel itself:

In the end, evangelical theology is . . . a theology of the gospel. The gospel comprises the beginning point, boundary, and unifying theme for all theology.

It is also the interpretive grid through which our reading of Scripture takes place. The first 'word' in theology should be the 'word of the gospel' (Acts 15:7 RSV).

Doctrine is that which springs from the word of the gospel and provides the basis for the core teachings of the faith shared by all major Christian groups. Obviously an evangelical theology is one that lunges, leaps, works, worships, prays, and preaches from the gospel itself.

Where a theology cannot trace its trajectory back to the gospel, there it is not evangelical. The gospel is the rule of faith for the evangelical churches as it provides the lens through which we understand the mission of the Triune God and his work for us in salvation.
—Mike Bird, Evangelical Theology, 45.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Touchstone of all Theology

Christology . . . is the touchstone of all knowledge of God in the Christian sense, the touchstone of all theology.

"Tell me how it stands with your Christology, and I shall tell you who you are."

At this point everything becomes clear or unclear, bright or dark. For here we are standing at the centre.
Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline, 66.

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Monday, July 14, 2014

Responsible Theologians Teach the Gospel

Responsible theologians ought to order their teaching by the gospel, and also to ensure that whatever else their theologies may contain, the reader can see what the essence of the gospel is.

The failure to make the subject of the gospel explicit in some theologies means that the reader may not know in the end what the heart of the Christian message is.

It is by an exposition of the gospel that the theologian earns the right to proceed, since the gospel is the most significant revelation of all.
—Peter Jensen, The Revelation of God, 33.

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Friday, July 11, 2014

An Unimaginably More Potent Witness

The best evangelical theological work emerges from the delight in the Christian gospel, for the gospel announces a reality which is in itself luminous, persuasive, and infinitely satisfying. That reality is Jesus Christ as he gives himself to be an object for creaturely knowledge, love, and praise.

To think evangelically about this one is to think in his presence, under the instruction of his Word and Spirit, and in the fellowship of the saints.

And it is to do so with cheerful confidence that his own witness to himself is unimaginably more potent than any theological attempts to run to his defense.
—John Webster, "Jesus Christ," in The Cambridge Companion to Evangelical Theology, 60.

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Obtaining the Minutest Portion of Sound Doctrine

If true religion is to beam upon us, our principle must be, that it is necessary to begin with heavenly teaching, and that it is impossible for any man to obtain even the minutest portion of right and sound doctrine without being a disciple of Scripture.
—John Calvin, Institutes, 1.4.2.

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