Monday, September 13, 2010

"Let's Start With Jesus: A New Way Of Doing Theology" by Dennis F. Kinlaw. Part VII, Conclusion

Those who have been following this series may have noticed that one of the subject tags at the bottom of each article is "Wesleyan Theology."  One may ask,  "why"?  Despite the fact that Dennis F. Kinlaw is Wesleyan in theology and his book "Let's Start With Jesus: A New Way of Doing Theology" expresses polite disagreement with Reformed Theology, what is there about what Kinlaw writes that is distinctly Wesleyan?  The Wesleyan distinction lies in Kinlaw's description of the nature of the transformation God accomplishes in those who experience salvation.  We shall see this as we consider the final chapter, "The Fulfillment of Salvation: Perfect Love."

At salvation we receive not only pardon but a new birth through the work of the Holy Spirit who transforms us into new creatures.  The Holy Spirit initiates a new life in us, the very life of God. (Titus 3: 4-7)  The sign of this new birth is the holy-love of God that is poured into our hearts. (Rom 5:8)  The tyranny of self-absorbtion is broken and the love we receive from the Father is lavished on others. (IJn. 3:1)  The proof of this change within us is two-fold.  First, we experience consciousness of reconciliation with and of our belong to the Father again. (Rom. 8: 15-26, IJn. 3: 1-2)  Second, we experience a change in our conscious concerns, a divine love for God and others. (2Cor. 5: 14-15)  The self's point of reference changes as Christ assumes His position as Lord in our hearts.  The Holy Spirit reveals to us the enormity of our previous self-absorbtion and hostility to God.  This is the beginning of sanctification.  We now have the freedom to choose Christ rather than our own desires.  We are to walk (keeping in step, walking) in the Spirit.  (Gal. 5:25)  The purpose of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is to bring us to the place Paul speaks of when he wrote "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Gal 2:20)  See also Phil. 1:21, ICor. 4: 16-17.  The purpose of the Holy Spirit is to bring us to such a devotion to Christ as a member Christ's bride, the Church, that Christ has no rival for our heart's devotion. Christ reigns supreme in our hearts.  The state of such an undivided heart is what Wesley would call "Perfect Love."  Kinlaw illustrates this truth by quoting the ancient collect used to prepare hearts to receive Communion: "Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee and worthily magnify thy holy name, through Christ our Lord. Amen." (Kinlaw, p. 140)

Justification and the New Birth are just the beginning of our new life.  Justification and New Birth only makes possible our having an undivided heart.  Some in the Church have ignored or denied this possibility.  This denial is refuted by Scripure.  Dt. 30:6 and Mt. 5:8 speak of us having a pure heart, the opposite of an adulterous one.  In Mk. 12: 28-34, we read of the two greatest commandments.  If these commands are for all of us, then obeying them is not beyond possibility.  See also Rom. 6:1-4, 8: 1-15, 12: 9-15, 13: 8-10, 1Cor. 12:3.  Believers can allow their love to be tainted with self-interest; Rom 2:8 and Phil. 1: 17 both use the same word for self-seeking, eritheia.  Yet it is possible to live with our hearts untainted by self-seeking. (Phil. 2: 1-11) In Phil. 2: 19-23, Paul tells us that Timothy had attained this untainted heart; he had the mind of Christ.

Some would object that attaining this mind of Christ is a work we attempt in our own strength. If Timothy escaped the tyranny of the self because he was more noble than most, than his escape was through something other than God's grace.  But if this escape was through God's grace, then this escape is available to all.  The Corinthian Church was sorely divided by self-interest.  Paul writes to the Corinthians highlighting his own deliverence from self-interest.  Paul didn't admonish the Corinthians for their selfishness by presenting a contrasting state unavailable to most.  No!  This escape from self is open to all!  When Paul spoke of his not using his freedom to eat meat dedicated to idols in the presence of weaker Christians who still had not attained that freedom, Paul was demonstrating how he looked out for the interests of others above his own.  See also 1Cor. 3: 3-9, 8: 9-13, 9:12, 15, 18-19, 22-23, 10: 31-11:1, 15: 1-6.  This state of being Paul speaks of does not nullify the grace of God. (Gal. 2:21)  Kinlaw points out that "He (Paul) is citing himself not as an example of exceptional piety, but rather an example of what the Holy Spirit wants to do in washing every human heart clean through the blood of Christ." (Kinlaw, p. 145)  Kinlaw goes on to ask "So why are the history of the Church and the lives of most Christian believers full of strife and division?  Is it not because the possibility of the heart controlled by the pure love of Christ has been largely inconceivable?  The fact that we have not thought it possible has not kept us from yearning for it." (Kinlaw, p. 147)  As Kinlaw points out, much of the Church's devotional writing and hymnody testifies to this.  (Example- "Breathe on Me Breath of God")  Has the Holy Spirit put such a hunger in us merely to taunt us?  Is it impossible for the Holy Spirit to perfect our hearts in love?  IJn. 1:7 answers this with a resounding "NO!"  And in this verse John is not speaking of the necessity of salvation or of our legal staus before God.  He is speaking of our inner heart condition.  Sanctification, like justification, is a work of grace.  Faith is the key.  We must trust God that He is good enough to be trusted with our care.  Gal. 5:6 tells us that the Spirit works through faith.

In Romans Paul proclaims a New Testament sacrifice, not of animals, but of the self.  This sacrifice brings grace to the worshipper that enables him/her to discern and do the good, acceptable,perfect will of God.  (Rom 12: 1-2)  The grace that self-sacrifice brings is the agape love of God.  In Rom. 12-15, Paul reveals the content and meaning of this gift of grace in a person's life. Paul's major theme in these passages: agape love does not seek self-interest but is other oriented.  (Rom. 15: 1-3)  Paul begins Romans boasting of the power of God to save us from sin.  At the close of Romans, Paul demonstrates how salvation works itself out in our lives.  Christ's sacrifice restores to the human heart the glory, the agape love, the divine presence we lost in the Fall.  See Rom. 12: 3-5, 10, 14-20, 13:4, 13: 1-7, 8-10, 14: 7-8, 15: 1-3, 23-32.  "One does not rise to such a life" Kinlaw states.  "One kneels to receive, to let him who is agape love fill and complete our personhood." (Kinlaw, p. 152)

Why is it that we need more than justification and the New Birth? Kinlaw's answer: after the New Birth we need to live with Christ to see the depth of our need of cleansing.  We will not trust God to do something for us until we feel the need.  The failure to trust is the final evidence of our sinfulness.  (IJn. 4:18) "The passion of believer's lives then is to let God give us this love and then let him fill us." (Kinlaw, p. 153)  Kinalw quotes John Wesley stating this very thing in "A Plain Account of Christian Perfection" (a series on "A Plain Account..." will be featured  on this blog in the near future):

 "Love is the highest gift of God; humble, gentle, patient love...It were well that you should be sensible of this, 'the heaven of Heavens is love.'  There is nothing higher in religion, there is in effect, nothing else; if you look for anything but more love, you are looking wide of the mark, you are getting out of the royal way.  And when you are asking others, 'Have you received this or that blessing?' if you mean anything but more love, you mean wrong; you are leading them out of the way, putting them upon a false scent.  Settle it then in your heart, that from the moment God has saved you from all sin, you are to aim at nothing more, but more of that love described in the thirteenth of the Corinthians. You can go no higher than this, till you are carried into Abraham's bosom." (Kinlaw, p. 153)

Immediately after quoting Wesley, Kinlaw concludes "Let's Start With Jesus" with these words: "Why is there nothing higher than love?  Wesley understood just as John before him did.  There is nothing higher than agape love because that is what God is, and he offers himself to any who will receive him.  What a gospel, and it is for the likes of me!" (Kinlaw, p. 153)

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