Saturday, September 4, 2010

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

In chapter four of "Lets' Start With Jesus: A New Way of Doing Theology," author Dennis F. Kinlaw identified what he calls the "problem of problems": Man's deliberate reorientation of his relation to his creator and the broken fellowship between Man and God as a result.  In chapter five, "The Way of Salvation: It is All About the Nature of God," Kinlaw deals with the solution, which is salvation.  In particular, Kinlaw relates salvation to the nature of God and human personhood.

The Incarnation and Atonement was possible because Mankind is made in the image of the Triune God.  This fact made it possible for the second person of the Trinity to become a human baby.  Christ's willingness to do so as well as His willingness to be a sacrifice for our sins made restored fellowship between God and individuals possible.  One of the marvels of personhood, human and divine, is that persons operate in a web of relationships.  What happens in one person makes a difference in the possibilities of another person's life.  (Kinlaw does not exclude free will as a factor in one's destiny.)  According to Kinlaw, if we do not understand this truth, we don't understand the cross or the power of prayer.

To restore the fellowship broken by Man, God needed a human counterpart to Adam through whom redemption can work to overcome the sinful forces set in motion by Adam's sin.  God looks for one to stand between Him in His holiness and Man in his sin.  In Is. 59 we read that the answer to God's own need is God's own arm.  God's own arm executes His divine will (Is. 40:10, 48:14, 51:5, 62:8) but also it is His means of our salvation. (Is. 59:16) God's own arm is not used to impose a solution or simply declare the problem solved, but is the very power of God to take into Himself the very problem He wishes to solve.  In Is. 53 the identity of God's own arm is revealed: the suffering servant.  "Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?...He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.  Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.  Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows; yet we considered him striken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.  All we like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities...because he...was numbered with the transgressors.  For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors." (Is. 53: 1, 3-6, 11, 12.  Kinlaws citation from the NIV) "The offended one takes the offense into himself to save the one who offends.  The physician assumes the very disease of the ones he has come to heal.  The eternal judge sentences himself to the very judgement that should go to the law breaker that stands before him.  The creator takes the place and the condemnation of the creature who has sinned against him." (Kinlaw, p. 130) (see also Rom. 5:6, 8, 15)

The only possibility for human salvation is for God's love to enter a human person, Jesus Christ, who has become one of us.  The triune nature of God's being and the personal nature of his creatures made the Incarnation possible.  Only Christianity is a religion of atonement.  The nature of God who atones for our sins is triune and Christianity teaches a biblical understanding of personhood.  All other religions depend upon self-effort to gain salvation.  In Christianity, salvation is by God's grace alone.  We rely on Jesus and His capacity to take us and our sin into Himself so we can receive Him and His saving life into ourselves.  The strongest Old Testament word for forgiveness is "nasa," which means "to bear."  Ps. 32:1 states that blessed is the person who is forgiven.  This passage can be read as "blessed is the person who is bourne."  Two other words conveying this concept are "he' emin" ("to confirm, support") and "batach" which occurs most often in Old Testament worship literature, mainly the Psalms.  This second word conveys trust and can be read as "to lie extended upon" or "to repose oneself upon."  A man or woman is saved in response to God's grace by casting themselves upon another, Jesus Christ. Our faith is not just in an abstract principle, but it is in another person.  "The key for us is not what we can do for ourselves, but in what another can and has done for us.  Faith as personal trust opens the door to the reception of saving grace found in the only one who is salvation.  And all this is possible because of the nature of personhood." (p. 133)

The concept of personhood is also helpful in our understanding of the mystery of intercessory prayer.  Kinlaw describes this mystery in a series of questions: Why do we need to pray for each other? Doesn't God care more for the other person than we do?  God knows their needs better than we do.  Why does God need our help?  Are God's resources dependent upon our assistance?  If God is holy love, why do we need to twist His arm to do good for others?  Why does God need to pray?  (Rom. 8:26, the Holy Spirit intercedes, Heb. 7:25, Jesus Christ intercedes in our behalf.)

Kinlaw points us to two factors that shed light on this mystery: the nature of perichoresis and the power of agape love.  Both can only be understood in terms of the interrelatedness of persons.  The key to every person rests in another or others.  What happens in others determines our possibilities.  What happens in Christ determines the possibilities for all humanity.  When He bore us in His heart, our options changed.  Only God can atone for an individual's sin, only God can transform another.  But when we make another's welfare more important than our own in our hearts, possibilities open up for the one being bourne.  After God's call, Moses lived for His people.  His whole life became one of intercession for his people, verbal or otherwise.  His intercession prevented God's judgement from falling upon Israel. (Num. 11: 1-3, 12: 1-6)  What happened in Moses had a determining effect upon Israel's possibilities.  Moses surrendered his own life for the sake of Israel and the blessing of all humanity.  The key to the power of Moses' life, as well as all the saints in Christian history, is more than an intellectual or psycological influence.  The power in their lives was an existential influence that affected the choice of possibilities in others.  The key to that power lay in their bearing others in their hearts, becoming more concerned about other persons than themselves.  (Gal. 4:17, 6:2)  Jesus told His disciples, and us as well, that to lose one's life is to find it.  It is through us making others welfare more important to us than our own that what we bind on earth will be bound in heaven and what we loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (Mt. 16: 16-28)  That's when the possibilities for others are opened up.  And this reprioritizing of another's welfare is not acting in our own strength.  This is agape love which has its origins in the Triune God.  "The nature of love is other oriented, self-giving, and sacrificial.  It is bourne in our spirits by God himself, who is love." (Kinlaw, p. 135)

I wrote earlier that I was determined that I would finish this seven part series on "Let's Start With Jesus" by this weekend, but there is still one last chapter to be covered.  That should be done by the end of this coming week.  

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