Monday, August 30, 2010

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

In the first three chapters of "Let's Start With Jesus: A New Way of Doing Theology," all that is covered leads to what author Dennis F. Kinlaw identifies as "the problem of problems." (Kinlaw, p. 107)  Man was made for love, but love in Mankind is part of a moral character that gives us power to sin.  The good seems unattainable while evil reigns.  In the Scriptures sin has already reached its full potential in Man by Gen. 6:5.  Man gives no glory to God; Man expresses no gratitude to his creator and sustainer.  (see also Is. 59:3,10, 13, Ezk. 22, see v. 30)  Dr. Kinlaw quotes Rom. 3: 10-18 describing Man's wretched state of sin with Old Testament parallels, mostly from the Psalms: Rom. 3: 10-12 (Ps. 14:1-3), Rom. 3:13 (Ps. 5:9, 140:3), Rom. 3: 14 (Ps. 140:3), Rom. 3: 15-18 (Is. 59: 7-8, Ps. 36:1).  All creation including Man, groans for redemption. (Rom. 8:19-22)  God is not the problem, Man is.  Therefore, the problem must be solved where Mankind dwells.  Hence, the necessity of the Incarnation.  No good man or woman exists on earth.  So Christ was born.

What went wrong?  Man and God were seperated by Man's sin.  Man's only connection to the source of holy love was broken.  The one responsible for this seperation was Adam. (Rom. 5: 12, 18)  What was the nature of Adam's sin, according to Kinlaw?  It wasn't the violation of a moral code as the Law was not a factor in Eden.  Adam and Eve chose a relationship of mistrust, distance, suspicion and disobedience toward the Creator where before the relationship was characterized by open and loving trust, friendship and obedience.  They chose to become self-serving rather than other-oriented.  This is described in Is. 53:6.  This is Kinlaw's commentary on this verse:  "We have all strayed, but not like the innocent wandering of sheep.  The Hebrew word panah, translated here as 'turned', is actually the root from which comes the Hebrew word for 'face' (panim).  A literal translation of the verse could be, 'We have faced everyone his own way.'  We have shifted our attention from the source of all good and turned in an act of rejection and rebellion to our own individual interests." (Kinlaw, p. 112-113)  Rom. 2:8 uses the Greek word eritheia (self-seekers) to describe Man. Man has deliberately reoriented himself and made the self the ultimate point of reference.  Luther referred to the result of this reorientation as "the heart curved in on itself ."  Adam and Eve mistakenly thought this reorientation would make them like God.

The only way for individuals to restore this broken relationship is through repentance.  "In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength." (Is. 30: 15)  The meaning of repentance "...must be understood in contrast to the Greek understanding of repentance (metanoia) which literally means 'a change of mind' or 'an after-mind.'  For the Greek, the change can be simply a rational one.  The Hebrew implies a change of relationship that is personal, not just cognitive.  So Adam's sin was a turning away from the one from whose hand he came, the one who gave and sustained his life." (Kinlaw, p. 116-117)

As we are cut off from God, so are we cut off from each other.  As we are not open to God, we are not open to each other.  The way we treat others is the way we treat God, using each other for our own advantage, not relating to others in openness and holy love.  We fear others are as untrustworthy as we know ourselves to be.

This seperation is so total that Paul uses one word as a metonym for this: flesh (sarx).  When Paul writes of the flesh, he is not referring to some Greek dualism such as the flesh v. the Spirit.  Adam and Eve experienced life in the Spirit before they sinned.  Life in the flesh is life lived in our own strength and desires.  Kinlaw quotes Lesslie Newbigin to illustrate this: "The words 'flesh' and 'Spirit' do not refer to parallel and analogous realities in our experience, such as 'visible' and 'invisible' or 'lower nature' and 'higher nature.'...Flesh...denotes the whole of our creaturely being insofar as it seeks to organize itself and to exist in its own power apart from the continually renewed presence and power of God 'from above.' " (Kinlaw, p. 119)

Humans are capable of all evil because they have severed their tie to the source of all holiness, not because they exist in human bodies or because of the limitations of finitude that characterizes creatureliness.  Kinlaw gives as evidence for this the fact that God took on human flesh with all its limitations in the Incarnation and maintains that flesh, redeemed, in his resurrected and ascended life.  For Paul, the flesh is not evil.  The moral character of a man or woman is determined by their relationship to the Holy One.  If they are centered on God, their flesh is infused with the Holy Spirit and they are characterized by agape love.  This is to be the pattern of life for all believers. (Gal. 5: 13-17, 2Cor. 5: 14-15)  The life Jesus had on earth in the flesh was not just a moral/ethical example for us to follow, but a pattern of true personhood.  None of us is complete if the Holy Spirit is not living within, liberating us from self interest.  (Rom. 8:6-8)  "Our completeness, our healthy personhood as it was created to be, is found not in ourselves, but perichoretically in God's Spirit.  The person who knows that completenessis truly a new creature, as human as God intended the human creature to be." (Kinlaw, p. 122)

Dr. Kinlaw has examined the problem in chapter four; in the next chapter he deals with the solution.

Friday, August 27, 2010

"Let's Start With Jesus: A New Way of Doing Theology" by Dennis F. Kinlaw. Part IV, c

(From Dennis F. Kinlaw's"Let's Start With Jesus: A New Way of Doing Theology", chapter three, "Personhood and the Concept of God.")

The term personhood was developed by the early Church to define the uniqueness of the three persons of the Godhead and their relationship to each other. It is the words of Christ, the second person of the Godhead, that was the most significant factor in defining the term, especially His words from the Gospel of John. Here are the last four characteristics of divine personhoood which determined how the Church defined personhood:

5.  Created With a Moral Consciousness That Reflects the Holiness of God- Holiness, love and personhood cannot be seperated.  "The essential nature of the God of Scripture is holy-love.  All the persons of the Godhead are described as holy.  Jesus, in the middle of his High Priestly Prayer in John 17, is praying for his disciples and cries out, 'Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name-the name you gave me-so that they may be one as we are one.' (John 17:11)"  (Kinkaw, p. 88)  Jesus is called the holy one of God. (Mk 1:24, Jn. 6: 68-69)

The Old Testament picture of God is holy.  If anything is discovered to be holy, God is there because He is holy and it is He alone who sanctifies.  The Sabbath, the day that belongs to Him, is holy.  His presence in the burning bush made the surrounding ground holy.  Israel was holy because God dwelt among them and the land they occupied was called the Holy Land.  The Temple where God dwelt was called the Holy Place and the city where it was located was called the Holy City.  The room in the Temple where God's presence resided was called The Holy of Holies.  When God commanded that His people were to be different, He gave three reasons: "I am Yahweh," "I am holy" and "I am Yahweh who makes you holy." (Lev. 11: 44-45, 19:3, 12, 14, 20:8)  "From Yahweh's point of view, the three statements are synonomous." (Kinlaw, p. 89)

In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary so that the one born to her was holy. (Lk. 1: 35)  Therefore, Jesus, the second person of the Trinity and the prototype of all human persons, is holy.  This then leads us to ask, Is holiness an essential element of all personhood? The answer is no.  Human personhood implies a moral consciousness; we are able to recognize moral choices and respond to God's call.  Adam and Eve were moral beings and after their sin, they hid from God in shame and blamed each other. We have the potential for holiness, a derived holiness.  We have the possibility for becoming holy because of our relationship to a holy God.  To be human is to have a sense of right and wrong, good and evil, justice and injustice.  However, there is no power in us to realize the standards we apply to others.  God's is and ought is the the same. The fifth character of human personhood is then the possession of an ethical/moral consciousness and the possibility to act in accordence with it.  We know when we have been violated when others impose their will on us for their own self-interest.  This is evidence that we were created to make our own moral choices.

God is holy.  Holiness is a ethical/moral quality possible only where there is freedom.  God is free.  His holiness is expressed in His freedom.  The inner perichoretic relation (see part IV, b, #3) of the three persons of the Trinity is holy love.  All three persons freely choose to serve the other two.  We cannot love unless we are free.  Freedom makes holiness and evil possible.

6. Created to Live in Openness- Openness has two aspects.  The first is self-transcendence.  Self-transcendence is an other orientedness within the self that enables one to see one's self as others see him/her, to stand outside one's self so to evaluate one's self and one's world morally and cognitively.  From this ability our consciences develop.  We are moral beings who hold ourselves up to a standard.  "Every person has his or her accuser within.  That is the key factor in human accountability.  To crush that inner voice is to dehumanize oneself.  We cannot impose our own way upon the world without doing damage to ourselves and other people." (Kinlaw, p. 95)

The other aspect of openness is permeability, which grows out of self-transcendence.  Each person has an inner necessity to relate to the world beyond one's self.  Something within the self is unwilling to let the self be the final arbiter.  The cry of the conscience is an appeal to an objective moral reality outside the self but having its echoes at the deepest inner level of the self.  Jesus was aware of the world.  He had certain knowledge of the Father, the Spirit, Satan, angels, worldly rulers, the poor, the sick, the demonized, the multitude, His own family and friends.  There was an order in these relationships.  The center of these relationships was the Father who sent Him and for whom He had chosen to do His will.  The Son was open to the other persons of the Godhead, the Father and the Holy Spirit in whom He found reason for all things.  "The key to understanding Jesus did not lie in Jesus.  It lay beyond him.  He lived joyously for Another, through Another, and for Another.  Jesus was the divine Son of God and a perfect human being, yet he did not find himself complete within himself.  He was not the center of his own chosen existence." (Kinlaw, p. 96)  Jesus draws life from the Father and lives to please the Father.  The Father defines Fatherhood in terms of His Son.  His completion as Father lies in the Son and in the Holy Spirit through whom He does His work.  The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Father and the Son, speaks that which He hears from the Father and the Son.  He is not the truth, but He leads us to the truth, the Son.  He doesn't speak for Himself but glorifies the Son and takes what is the Son's and makes it known to those who follow the Son.  Though divine, neither being is complete in themselves.  Created human beings find their completeness in their creator.  To be completely alone is to have entered hell.

7. Created to Relate to Others in Trusting Love- Completeness of a person is only through relating to others in trusting love.  Jesus does nothing of Himself, His life is not His own, He draws life from the Father through the Spirit, He lives to do His Father's will.  Jesus' relationship of trusting love is assumed when He speaks of losing one's life to find it.  Self-protection is a refusal to give away one's self.  This leads to loss and death. (Mt. 16:25, Mk 8:35, Lk 9:24)  In John's Gospel, when Jesus speaks of a kernal of wheat that falls to the ground so many more seeds will be produced, He is applying this to Himself.  If Jesus had protected Himself and not trusted the Father, He would have ceased to be who He is because God by definition is self-giving love.  Baptism marks death to the old life with its sin and its source, the self.  Baptism marks the beginning of a new life lived through another source.  Paul and Timothy chose to live this new life. (ICor. 10:33-11:1 and Phil. 2: 19-21)  So should we all.  (ICor. 10: 24)

8.  Human Personhood Enables Identification Between God and His Creatures- Adam and Eve were made in God's image, so God and Man could commune with each other and know each other as persons.  This was the climax of the creation story and was Man's greatest priviledge.  This communion is God's purpose for us and can be described as life and salvation.  In Jn. 10, Jesus declared that the purpose of His Incarnation was so we could have life and have it abundantly.  In Jn. 17:3, Jesus defines eternal life as knowing the Father.  Jesus wants us to be where He is. (Jn. 17:24)  Implicit in this statement is Jesus' desire for us to be in communion with Him.  He speaks of this communion in terms of abiding in Him as branches abide in the vine. (Jn. 15: 1-8)  The life of the branches has its source in the vine. Our fruitfulness comes from our abiding in Him so His life can exist in us.  This is similiar to Jesus abiding in the Father. (Jn. 14:8, 10-11)  The life of the Father flows through the Son to the world.  We are to have the same kind of relationship with Jesus.  In Jn. 17: 20-23, Jesus said that all future believers are to experience this relationship.  To understand what Jesus is talking about, one needs more than a knowledge of horticulture.  One needs to understand perichoresis, how the Father and the Son live in each other.

I am going to try to finish this series by the end of next week.  I never thought it would take me this long to deal with Dr. Kinlaw's short book.  There are three more chapters to cover.           

Friday, August 20, 2010

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

(From Dennis F. Kinlaw's"Let's Start With Jesus: A New Way of Doing Theology", chapter three, "Personhood and the Concept of God.")

The term personhood was developed by the early Church to define the uniqueness of the three persons of the Godhead and their relationship to each other.  It is the words of Christ, the second person of the Godhead, that was the most significant factor in defining the term, especially His words from the Gospel of John.  Here are the first four characteristics of divine personhoood which determined how the Church defined personhood:

1.  Consciousness of Identity- Jesus had a clear consciousness of His own identity as the Son of the Father as well as a clear sense of His own distinctiveness from the Father and from the Spirit.  His relation to the Father as His Son was the difference between Himself and all created persons.  Jesus knew not only a different sonship in relation to His Father than the disciples knew toward their earthly fathers but also a different sonship than the disciples experienced after their being born again.  Jesus' words to Nicodemus demonstrates His sonship was ontological, not spiritual.  He speaks of the Father as one other than Himself.  He speaks of the Spirit as a gift seperate from Himself.  Yet He insists upon the oneness of God.  He is not the Godhead, but one person of the Godhead.  And "If Jesus is an example of a person, then a human person should have a similiar awareness of his or her own unique individual incommunicable personhood." (Kinlaw, p. 79)  Individuals are only fulfilled in self-giving love and one cannot give one's self away unless they are first in possession of their own selves.  Jesus knew His identity, His mission, His purpose.  This certain knowledge enabled Him to give Himself away to others.   

2.  Created For Webs of Relationships- If Jesus is the human prototype and He is explained in terms of His relationship to both the Father and the Spirit, then persons never exist alone.  Jesus was not self-originating (He was begotten of the Father, born of Mary), does not have life in Himself (His life is drawn from the Father), is not self-explanatory (His identity is through the Father), is not self-fulfilling (He came to do the Father's will out of love for the Father).  Jesus was conceived by the Spirit, annointed by the Spirit, led into the wilderness by the Spirit.  Jesus acknowledges power from the Spirit (It is the Spirit that gives Him power to cast out demons), Jesus's words are not His own (His words are from the Father through the Spirit).  Jesus offered Himself in our place on the Cross through the Holy Spirit's power. (Heb 9:14)  In light of this, the search for the self in isolation is futile.  The quest for the self in isolation indicates a lack of understanding of what it means to be a person.

3.  Created for Reciprocal Relationships- The three persons of the Trinity exist for giving of themselves to each other and receiving from each other.  The early Church Fathers developed the word "perichoresis" to describe this inner life of the Godhead.  They formed the word from two Greek words:  chora (space, room, to make room for) and peri (around, about).  Perichoresis came to express how one person can be open to another.  It became the key linguistic tool for the Church's development of the Trinity and of the personhood of the three persons of the Trinity.  Gregory Nazianzuz used the word to explain how Jesus can be God and man at the same time without diminishing either His divinity or His humanity.  Jesus' divinity and humanity co-indwell each other.  The Athanasian Creed describes this co-indwelling this way: "One: not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh...not by confusion of substance: but by unity of person." (Kinlaw, p. 82)  John of Damascus used Jesus' words in Jn. 14: 11, "Believe me when I say I am in the Father and the Father is in me..." (NIV), to describe how each member of the Godhead dwelt in the other two perichoretically.  "In showing us what an original divine person is, he also revealed what a human person was meant to be and-through Christ's atoning sacrifice-can be..." (Kinlaw, p. 83)

4. Created to be Free-  Jesus did His Father's will, not His own, freely.  He was fulfilled in doing His Father's will and longed that we experience the same freedom. (Jn. 8:36)  Jesus was free in His Father's love. (Jn. 10:18)  Jesus lived to give Himself away.  Jesus shed new light on how we view sacrifice and diety.  Other religions before and since Jesus' sacrifice view God, or the gods, as demanding sacrifice to appease them.  Jesus offered Himself as a sacrifice for us before accepting sacrifice from His worshippers. (Jn. 15: 9, 12-13)  True freedom means freedom to give, not just to receive.

The next four characteristics of divine personhood will be covered in the next post.

Monday, August 16, 2010

"Let's Start With Jesus: A New Way Of Doing Theology" By Dennis F. Kinlaw. Part IV, a

In Dennis F. Kinlaw's "Let's Start With Jesus: A New Way of Doing Theology", chapter three is entitled "Personhood and the Concept of God."  This chapter covers a vast amount of material so it seems best to divide the summary of it into two, possibly three parts.

Recently, I read another blogger's attempt to describe God's relationship to man.  He described the relationship with the analogy of someone who builds, designs and tests cars and their relationship with the finished product.  In his analogy, for the car not to be destroyed, the car had to be fully functional.  After the designer/builder/driver of the car drives sucessfully from A to B, the car, with the capacity for self-awareness, says to the driver, "Aren't you glad I worked synergistically for you?"  The designer replies, "I didn't need any effort on your part to build you and since I was the one who turned the key in the ignition and determined the direction you would be driven, I needed no help from you to drive you where I wanted to go.  You contributed nothing to this enterprise.  Our relationship is not one of synergisim but monergism." 

While it must be acknowledged that the blogger knows this is not a perfect analogy, it still must be pointed out that this is a terrible analogy.  Why?  Because it assumes that God created humans as objects of mere utility, not as beings in a relationship of communion with Him.

Dr. Kinlaw affirms the scriptural truth that all creation, including Man, depends upon God for existence and continued sustainability.  But, as Kinlaw points out, creation is not just a toy in the hands of the Creator, but an object of love.  In the Incarnation, God identified Himself with creation in a personal way.  With the Incarnation, God and His creation belong to each other in a new, intimate way; God and Man in Christ joined inseperately.  "The incarnation not only brought about the possibility of regenerational change for us, but of actual change in the life of the changeless one, God himself." (Kinlaw, p. 72)  God brought about a union with the material world through "enfleshment", which is totally at odds with worldly philosophy.  "The creation carried within it the potential for an unbelievingly intimate and eternal relationship with God.  It was good enough for personal union with one of the persons of the Godhead." (Kinlaw, p. 72)  Jesus was resurrected and ascended to heaven in a physical body.  No person is distinct from his/her body.  It is our destiny to be saved as enfleshed persons, as the incarnation and resurrection affirm.  The Incarnation reveals the heart and essence of God.  His essence does not change or alter.  "Yet the Word became speechless." (Kinlaw, p. 73)  According to orthodox Jews and Muslims, this is blasphemy.

As stated previously in this series, God is one, but within that oneness there is a distinction between the persons of the Godhead.  God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit at the same time.  Jesus claimed to be God; He accepted worship of Himself, forgave sins and raised the dead.  He also distinguished Himself from the Father and the Spirit.  How did the early Church explain this?  The Church rejected the suggestion that there are three gods, or that Jesus was just a special person, part of the created world.  This rejection came out of the Church's realization that there is no salvation outside of God and that salvation is only through Jesus; Jesus must be both God and man.  But how was this to be explained?  The answer to this dilemma came through the Church's development of the concept and the vocabulary of personhood.

The Biblical concept of personhood is foreign territory for modern/postmodern thinkers.  The roots of the modern/postmodern view of the self has its roots in Augustine who encouraged Man to look inward to find God.  His studies of the Trinity were studies in human psycology; our interiority was his main concern.  Descartes sought to locate the inner self as an isolated object, the building block of epistemelogical certainty.  The result of this development is the modern/postmodern contention that with the isolation of the self comes self understanding.

Yet as Kinlaw points out, the human self has no subsistense apart from God.  Our very self-definition is found in relation to God and others.  We are not complete in ourselves.  "We are ectypes, analogues, of a prototype from whom we receive our existence, our identity, and our self-definition.  To know us alone wouldn't be to know us at all.  We need to know the model from which our personal nature was drawn if we are to find out who we are.  This model is the Triune Godhead." (Kinlaw, 76)

The disciples knew that when they saw Jesus, they saw God face to face.  In their attempts to articulate this to the Gentiles of the Roman Empire, they adopted Greek and Latin words for "face."  In the Eastern part of the Empire, they used the Greek word prosopon, in the west, the Latin word persona.  This created a problem.  These words originated in the theater to signify masks used by actors to indicate the role they played on stage.  This gave the impression that Jesus was just a manifestation of God acting out the particular role of God's Son.  But Jesus' very identity consisted in being the Son of the Father.  What language could the early Church use to preserve the distinctiveness of each person of the one triune God?  The Church's solution was to take the language they had and fill it with new meanings.  Moses redefined the terms god, create, holy, salvation.  The Church redefined the words person, personhood, personality, personal.

In speaking of the word Father in relation to God, we often make the mistake of using the human example of earthly fathers to understand God the Father and how we ought to relate to Him.  Instead, the early Church taught that the word Father first applies to God the Father and only in an analogical way to human fatherhood.  The divine reality reveals what the human reality should be.  Adam was not the first father.  The first person of the Trinity is.

The same can be said concerning the term "personhood."  Personhood is not just a human reality that is helpful in understanding God.  This thinking must be reversed.  "The context of the term person for the church was determined by the understanding of the Trinity and, in particular, the nature of the Son.  The application to human persons came later and is strictly metephorical.  The fact that the Scriptures teach us that we are made in the image of the Son makes it possible for the terms used to describe the Father,the Son, and the Holy Spirit to be used to describe us." (Kinlaw, p. 78)  What is the definition of the word "person" in terms of the Trinity?  It is a symbol for the very real distinctions in the Godhead.  It is distinct from the term "being" which describes the oneness of God.

To speak only of the Son does not define His whole being.  "We must look to him and his relationship to the other two persons of the Trinity to establish our understanding of the term we apply to ourselves." (Kinlaw, p. 78)  This understanding comes from Jesus' own words concerning His relationship to the Father and the Spirit, mainly from John's Gospel.  We will begin analyzing Jesus' words on this subject in part IV, b  of this post.