Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Glorious Humility of Christ--Mark 9:2-8


Todd Agnew in his song “My Jesus” asks the question “Which Jesus do you follow? Which Jesus do you serve?”  He then goes on to compare the Americanized Jesus, the Jesus that is essentially an epitome of the American dream with the Jesus of the bible that dined with tax collectors and sinners. Agnew concludes that he wants to live his life imitating the Jesus of the bible. As he writes it “Not a poster child for American prosperity, but like my Jesus You see I'm tired of living for success and popularity I want to be like my Jesus.” The American dream tells stories of rags to riches as signs of its success. But as far as I am concerned the greatest success story in human history is actually a riches to rags story, it is the story of God in His richness taking on human flesh and ultimately a Roman Cross. Why is this “riches to rags” story so great? For me it is because it shows the love and humility of God.

 

                Today, I want to redirect us back to our first-love. I think it is easy in the church today to get caught up in other things, the authority of scripture, the role of the law today, what is the role of the church in a changing world, and many others. But what I want to do today is take us back to where all these things, Scripture, law, church are supposed to be pointing, that is Christ, our first-love. I want this to be a time of revival, a time to reconnect with the one who first loved us. Today, I preach Christ crucified.  But what does the transfiguration account we just read, have to do with the crucifixion? Let’s take a look at the context in Mark.

 

                A central claim to Mark’s theology is that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God (Mk 1:1). It is in this section of the Gospel (chapters 8-9) where what this means really begins to come into the foreground. This section starts with a question that Jesus poses to the disciples, “Who do you say that I am” (8:27ff). Peter answers correctly, “you are the Messiah” You are the Lords anointed. Jesus then began to teach them what it meant to be the Son of Man, namely that “the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected” (8:31). Peter’s response to Jesus definition of Messiah showed that while his answer was correct, his understanding of Messiah needed some major tweaking. In fact, his response was so flawed it commanded a harsh response from Jesus “Get behind me Satan.”  The problem that Peter has is rooted in his understanding of the Son of Man, which comes from Daniel (7:13-14) of one who was coming with the clouds in authority, glory and sovereign power over all nations into eternity. Peter could not equate one having supreme eternal power with one who would suffer and die. The Christ of the cross was too much for Peter’s Christology to handle. But as we can see the cross is the focal point of what it means to be Messiah for Mark.  We see this same theme again in the text that follows the transfiguration, where Jesus identifies the Son of Man as one that “must suffer much and be rejected” (9:12). This section and the entire narrative of the book of Mark point us towards the cross.  Today we will get just a glimpse of this as we explore the narrative contrasts between the transfiguration and the passion narrative to get a better picture of who this Jesus is.

 

                Six days after Peter is confronted by Jesus, Peter is in his glory; his beliefs about Jesus being the Messiah are confirmed as Jesus is transfigured (i.e. changes his appearance), before them, joined by Moses and Elijah. There was even a voice coming from the clouds affirming that Jesus was the Son of God. To commemorate this occasion, Peter suggests building tabernacles for the guest. Peter wanted that glory to last forever; he still had no room for the Christ of the cross. What Peter wanted, along with many Jews of the day, was a Messiah that would free them from Roman authority, re-establish the kingdom of Israel and bring about shalom, perfect peace in the land. But this was not God’s plan for redemption. The glory of the Christ faded, Moses and Elijah disappeared just as quickly as they appeared; it was just Jesus and the disciples remaining. The glory did not last; that glory was not an eternal redemptive glory.  But soon the Christ that stood before Peter, James and John in clothes that radiated whiter than any launderer could make them, would soon be disrobed with Roman guards casting lots for his clothing, his disciples which saw this magnificent sight would disown him, the Christ that was conversing with the saints Moses and Elijah would be mocked by the criminals that accompanied him on the cross, but perhaps worst of all, God who in a cloud said “this is my Son listen to him” would leave his Son asking “Why have you forsaken me” as death drew near. Yet it is my claim here today that Christ’s true glory is in His humility, particularly in the humility he showed on the cross.

 

                Mark states that Peter, James and John were brought up on the mountain with Jesus. It was common practice at the time that testimony had to be verified by two or three witnesses in accordance with Deuteronomic Law (Deut 19:15). This is a time before forensics and fingerprinting were used to identify and convict criminals. But even though these tools were not available, justice and truth were still important principles. The entire system was reliant upon the testimony of witnesses to reach a verdict, or affirm the validity of a claim. Peter, James and John were taken up the mountain of transfiguration, three people to act as witnesses. At Jesus trial, the Chief Priests and the Sanhedrin heard testimony against Jesus from false witnesses, whose testimony did not even agree (Mark 14:56-59). Where were the true witnesses to Jesus, the ones he took up to see His glory on the mount of transfiguration?  They were dispersed, in hiding. Where was Peter who vowed to stand by Christ even unto death? He denied even knowing Jesus three times (Mark 14:66ff).

 

The disciples were ashamed to be following Jesus when Jesus needed them most. They had no place in their theology for the Jesus of the Cross, only a very triumphant Jesus, like the Jesus of the transfiguration. But at the end of the day do we fare any better? Western Theology is very comfortable with the Jesus of the Transfiguration, a Jesus that can embody many of the Greek perfection, like omnipotence (all powerful), omniscience (all knowing), omnipresence (all present), impassable (without emotions), etc. which all would seem to be embodied in the Jesus of the Transfiguration mindset. If we in the West have to deal with the cross it’s usually only in the context of a necessary evil, which freed us from our sins. Or to use the words of Saint Athanasius “God became man, that man might become divine”.  That is to say in order for us to be made perfect, Christ had to make atonement for our sins. Everything is always in the context of aspiring after perfections. But this is not the case in every tradition, Asian Theology offers a different approach, particularly seen for instance in The Gold Crowned Jesus, a Korean Theological piece. The Gold Crowned Jesus asks the question, Who is Jesus? We in the West typically answer it in the manner I have been describing by utilizing these concepts of perfection. But what this piece does is put that portrayal of Jesus, with his Gold Crown in conversation with a leper and a beggar. For them the question is how is Jesus going to help me, how is Jesus going to help put food in my stomach, heal me from my illness or provide some form of comfort, very pragmatic and basic concerns. The author’s conclusion, which is commonly held within Asian theology, is to take a position which is centered on the cross, on the point of suffering, on a Christ that can sympathize with the suffering of others. Once this side of Jesus is realized the golden crowned Jesus statue speaks to the Leper, “I have been closed up in this stone for a long, long time, ... entombed in this dark, lonely, suffocating prison. I have longed to talk with you, the kind and poor people like yourself, and share your suffering. I can't begin to tell you how long I have waited for this day, ... this day when I would be freed from my prison, this day of liberation when I would live and burn again as a flame inside you, inside the very depths of your misery. But now you have finally come. And because you have come close to me I can speak now. You are my rescuer." What we see here is a Christ that is able to identify with the suffering of the world, not just offer some pie in the sky glimmer of hope for perfection in the future but actually share in their suffering.  It is emphasizing Christ as the humble suffering servant, one who is incarnate with us.  Perhaps the more perfect revelation of God is not of a God standing in supreme power and perfection, but of one who would humbly take upon himself a cross and die in the company of sinners. Ultimately what I hope to convey in this is to begin to ask the question of who is Jesus to you? And how does that Jesus compare to the Jesus we see revealed in the gospel?

 

The garments in which Jesus was wearing on the mount of transfiguration became radiant; they were whiter than anyone could bleach them. He was transfigured before them. White was symbolic for purity, Christ was perfect, without blemish to a super-natural degree. But while on the cross, Jesus was stripped and exposed for the entire world to see. The guards were casting lots for Jesus clothing (Mark 15:24). This is perhaps one of the most powerful contrasts for me, in large part due to the shame accompanied with the cross. This concept of shame is much more easily understood within more communal cultures than in individualistic cultures like the United States which operates under a penal system of guilt. In communal cultures ones identity is always as a part of a larger community. They are very concerned with “face”, or one’s social value within a group setting. One’s face determines their group identity, and each person within that group seeks to preserve their face, and not lose face.  Bringing shame upon oneself brings shame and disgrace upon the entire family/ community, they lose face. Often in communal cultures, bringing disgrace upon the community, often leads to the community abandoning you. Without that community there is no identity. Jesus had brought shame upon his community, the disciples had abandoned him, and he was left all alone, exposed for the whole world to see. Stripped of everything, including his clothing, he bore the shame and rebuke of the world.   

 

What one wears was often symbolic of status. Kings often wore very stately clothes to set themselves apart. But even today people wear designer clothing as a symbol of status. So just seeing the humility of Jesus displayed in this way should act as a challenge to our personal values. We live in a world that praises wealth, power and fame.  It is a world that does all it can to avoid suffering and pain. As Paul writes in I Corinthians 1:18 “the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing”. The thought that someone could be God and yet die on a cross is irrational to the world. But yet to those of us who are being saved it is the power of God. Wealth, power and fame, are not the goal for the Christian, because for the Christian the true joy is found in the cross. The cross and the incarnation act to overturn traditional structures and values through their display of complete humility. In like manner we have been called in 1 Peter 5:5 to “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility”.  What all of this means, is that Christianity commands total life transformation, one must be reborn into the image and likeness of Christ, with renewed values and goals rooted in humility.

               

Perhaps the greatest example of this was Mother Teresa, who spent her life ministering to the people of Calcutta in India. Here is what Shane Claiborne in his book The Irresistible Revolution had to say about her humility in service: “People often ask me what Mother Teresa was like. Sometimes it's like they wonder if she glowed in the dark or had a halo. She was short, wrinkled, and precious, maybe even a little ornery—like a beautiful, wise old granny. But there is one thing I will never forget—her feet. Her feet were deformed. Each morning in Mass, I would stare at them. I wondered if she had contracted leprosy. But I wasn't going to ask, of course. "Hey Mother, what's wrong with your feet?"

 

One day a sister said to us, "Have you noticed her feet?" We nodded, curious. She said: "Her feet are deformed because we get just enough donated shoes for everyone, and Mother does not want anyone to get stuck with the worst pair, so she digs through and finds them. And years of doing that have deformed her feet." Years of loving her neighbor as herself deformed her feet.” (Shane Claiborne, The Irresistible Revolution, 166-67). She took the worst pair of shoes for herself, so that no one else would have to suffer. Mother Teresa did not consider herself any better than those whom she served. In spite of all of her wealth and fame, she never used these things to give her some advantage over the people she served. But rather she became one with them; she took the worst so that others could have better. She became like a Mother to the people in Calcutta, wanting the best for her children.  But she is not without her critics in this matter. Critics have argued that if Mother Teresa had just worn better shoes, she may have been able to touch more lives and been better able to help those in her care. In other words, that by going to such extremes she hampered her potential productivity. To which I can only respond…does Mother Teresa’s strength come from her feet? Rather her strength comes from God, and her example of humility acts as a testimony for others. So it must be among you, if you want to be first in the kingdom you must be last, the kingdom is found in those who hold the posture of a servant. But let me be clear here, as there is such a thing as a false humility. Humility is not thinking less of yourself, its thinking of yourself less (C.S. Lewis. Mere Christianity). Humility is not putting oneself down, it is putting others ahead of oneself; it is going the extra mile to love our neighbors.

 

On the mount of transfiguration, Jesus conversed with Moses and Elijah.  Moses was a remarkable servant of God; he was the one who led the Hebrews along with the rabble of non-Israelites out of Egypt. Elijah on the other hand was a prophet sent by God to a Jewish people who were led astray by foreign deities. Elijah is perhaps best known for his calling down fire from heaven upon a water soaked sacrifice to confirm that YHWH is God and not Baal. But each likely mentioned here because they were beholden to God. Moses after seeing God had to veil his face because it radiated (Exodus 34:35), Elijah on the other hand saw that God was not in the wind or the earthquake but passed by him in the cave (1 Kings 19:11-13).  In other words, Moses and Elijah‘s presence at the transfiguration further confirms that Jesus is God.  The topic of the conversation, given in Luke of his coming departure that was going to be accomplished in Jerusalem, was not mentioned in Mark, drawing further emphasis on the importance of with whom Jesus is speaking rather than about what they are speaking. That is to say, the  emphasis in Mark is that Jesus is speaking with Moses and Elijah something that Mark than sets in contrast on Calvary, where Jesus is surrounded by criminals/rebels and was mocked and insulted as he hung on that cross (Mark 15:27-32).  The victory that Christ won was not in the company of the saints on the mountain of transfiguration but being surrounded by condemned rebels, sinners, being taunted by those who passed by and those in the religious establishment.

 

We have been called to replicate Christ’s humility in the company we keep. Christ ultimate work of redemption was done in the presence of sinners not saints. This is seen first and foremost in the cross where Jesus died. But also in his recognition that it is not the healthy that need a doctor but the sick. He dined with sinners and tax collectors, those on the margins of society, those who the religious establishment sought to do away with. We, like the Pharisees, could only associate ourselves with the “saints” of the world and parade ourselves around with a holier than thou attitude or we, like Christ, can incarnate ourselves into communities outside of our circle of saints. Like Christ, we could be on friendly terms with those on the fringes or outside of our faith tradition. As Paul so eloquently put it, to those under the law he became like one under the law but to those not under the law he became like them in order that he might win followers to Christ (1 Cor 9:20). Sometimes Christian communities get into a mindset that good, pious Christians don’t go to that pub, good Christians don’t go to that casino or good Christians don’t go to that part of town, in other words good Christians don’t go to areas where the riffraff of our society hang out. They don’t want to be associated with that crowd. These sentiments are very similar to the Pharisees who critiqued Jesus for hanging out with the sinners and tax collectors. The problem with the Pharisees is that their piety is not rooted in humility but in pride, in proving oneself more worthy than another.  Our calling on the other hand is to replicate Jesus humility by going into the world; to go into all of the world as the Great Commission states, not just a subset. This means humbly lowering ourselves (incarnating ourselves) from our place of perceived moral hierarchy, to become one with the “sinners and tax collectors” of our generation, those who are poor, oppressed, in prison, on the margins of our society and often times of our religious institutions. The challenge is to be like Christ in our encounters throughout our daily lives and really take time to reflect on what it means to be a Christian in each aspect of our lives.

 

Lastly we see the humility of Christ, in that God turns His back on Him. Perhaps there are some in this audience today who have been forsaken by a parent or someone close to you.  But for those who have not it is hard to imagine the agony behind Jesus cry echoing the Psalm of David (PS 22) “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). It is a distant cry from the confirmation and affirmation given Jesus on the mount of transfiguration. But as we will see, while it looked so bleak, lots were cast for his clothing, insults were hurled at him, and figuratively speaking a pack of angry dogs surrounded him ready to devour, the LORD did hear his plea and resurrected him, giving him victory over his enemy once and for all.  

 

Humility often comes at a high cost. It might be at the cost of being “proved right” on a given point. It may affect our social relationships, as some people may not be able to tolerate that you actually want to be friendly with those on the outskirts of our society. There will be tough times following in the road of the cross, it may even seem as if God has forsaken us or hung us out to dry. It does not seem logical that the path of the servant is the path to victory, but in Jesus we have hope.  We may feel as if God has turned his back on us, so did Christ on the cross, we may feel as if everyone has abandoned us, so did Christ, we may be stripped of everything we have, so did Christ. Christ identifies in every way with the plight of His humble servants. His identification with us, encourages us, strengthens us, to see through all the challenges that being a humble Christian brings. 

 

It is still almost hard to believe that the Christ on Calvary is the same Christ that was on the mount of transfiguration. One might ask the question as to why Christ would embrace Calvary the way in which he did, especially after displaying such power and majesty in the transfiguration.  Danish Philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard tells a parable of The King and the Humble Maiden to help explain God’s love for us. There was a king that loved a humble maiden.  Now certainly the King could have just taken her to be his queen, but she would always be a humble maiden who the King graciously elevated, not an equal with him. Her love for the king would always be out of a lowly position. The king would much rather lose her than simply be her benefactor. Another option is that the king could just appear to her, as one whose position makes him worthy of her praise. But the king desires not his own exaltation but hers. Since her ascent will not truly allow the kings love to flourish, instead the king himself must descend. The king must take the form of a servant, not merely as one might disguise themselves in a beggars cloak, but truly embracing the servants role in every way. For this is true love, to desire to be equal with them, not just in jest, but truly two equals.  God is not zealous for Himself, but out of love wants to be equal with the lowliest of the lowly. Christ loved us so much that he wanted to become like one of us, in every way. In like manner, we are called to enter into the lives of others. Perhaps Paul in the letter to the Philippians says it best, when he challenges the Philippians in chapter 2 to have the same mindset as Christ: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” In order to love like Jesus loved, we must first learn to humble ourselves before God and before our neighbor only then can we truly incarnate ourselves in the world.  

 

It is easy to praise the Jesus of the transfiguration to admire the humility of Christ on the cross and the tremendous victory that he won on our behalf, but it is much more difficult to live it. To be the one on the top, to be in a position of power or hold a moral high ground, whatever that privilege may be, and be humble enough and loving enough to incarnate oneself into another group. As we saw at the beginning of this message, it did not make much sense to Peter either. How could the Son of Man, the one who was coming with supreme power, be one who was going to suffer and die on a Roman Cross? It took the resurrection to get Peter to understand the power of God at work through the suffering of the Son of God and he went on to preach Christ crucified, Christ in His humblest and meekest state. Now may we, whose lives have been transformed by the cross, be willing to do the same, not just in word but also in action.

As you go into this next week, take time to reflect on these questions:  Who is Jesus to me? How does Jesus example of humility in scripture challenge my values and lifestyle choices? How can I better replicate Christ’s humility in the friends and acquaintances that I keep? Am I willing to pay the high costs of being a humble servant of Christ?

Monday, December 9, 2013

In Search Of Deep Faith-- Jim Belcher

Jim Belcher in In Search of Deep Faith chronicles his family’s journey to various historic sights. What Belcher does quite well in this is make the history come alive with meaning for the present context. While there is not time or space here to dive into all of Belcher’s insights I would like to highlight one that perhaps meant the most to me.
Victory has already been won. We wanted our kids to understand that the kind of life Bonhoeffer lived—a life of joy in the midst of suffering, a courageous life of obedience—only happens when we know our true telos, our destination. We wanted them to realize that, like Bonhoeffer, they are part of a huge drama and that they know how it ends. And because they know how it ends, and because they are part of this big script, they are able to live lives of profound meaning and significance. They can live in confidence, with boldness, with joy in suffering, with peace in the service of others, and with a sense of expectation and hope. Knowing their end makes all the difference; knowing their destination provides the hope they need. (Kindle Location 3838)
Through suffering comes victory; through Christ’s death on the cross comes resurrection. We know this in our heart of hearts to be true. The issue becomes making this into a liturgical practice. The life of Bonhoeffer and other martyrs should be our guide in this, for though they knew that death may be immanent, it just made them cherish the process all the more. It is this live like you were dying type attitude that is missing amidst so many Christians today. It is why so many turn from faith at the first sign of trouble.  But to those that have been called out of darkness into the light of Christ’s love know that though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, that He has prepared a banquet table before me in the presence of my enemies.  This is but one example of the many insights that Belcher develops in his book.
                Speaking a bit broader about the book, it is very readable for any audience. Belcher does an excellent job at filling in much of the background knowledge and history needed for understanding the communicative messages of each section. The intent of the book, while certainly educational, is much more than data transfer, instead focusing on formation; which in many respects is the true intent of education. We follow the Belcher family around, through all the twists and turns of their journey.  Some parts of the journey were tough as they attempted to convey information to their young children and homeschool as they travel. They had various spouts of homesickness and other disagreements. But yet by the grace of God they made it through and came out changed by the experience.

                If you would like a little pilgrimage in your life now, pick up a copy of the book here: http://www.amazon.com/Search-Deep-Faith-Pilgrimage-Christianity-ebook/dp/B00FY2G59E/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1386625683&sr=8-1&keywords=jim+belcher         

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Neo-Reformed Life-system


Christianity is an entire life-system. It transforms every aspect of ones being. It is a call to interact in the world, shaping it for the glory of God. Christianity demands not just one day but all day everyday of undivided devotion. Christianity therefore does not compartmentalize its faith; rather the Christian’s faith permeates every aspect of ones being.  Such a comprehensive and irreducibly complex faith requires the same kind of theological/ philosophical framework. This kind of comprehensive life-system is found in in the Neo-Reformed tradition. This paper seeks to explore the foundations of the Neo-Reformed life-system. It does this first by an analysis of Jean Calvin, Abraham Kuyper and Herman Dooyeweerds theological/philosophical system. This life-system will then be analyzed and compared with other ethical systems displaying how the Neo-Reformed tradition stands out from the rest. Finally, there is a section on the application of this life-system.

Background

            Jean Calvin followed in the footsteps of Luther in splitting from the Romanist Church. Calvin was a pinnacle figure in the Reformation in France during the 1500’s. Calvin’s systematic theology found in the Institutes of the Christian Religion is the foundations for Protestant Theology. It is a work that has shaped countless thinkers in the Reformed tradition including that of Abraham Kuyper.  Abraham Kuyper was a pastor, politician, newspaper editor, and founder of the Free University of Amsterdam in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s. Abraham Kuyper built upon Calvin’s theology of common grace, formulating it into a concept called sphere sovereignty. Sphere sovereignty was developed into a modal law theory by Herman Dooyeweerd in the mid-1900’s. Dooyeweerd took the principles of the Kuyperian structure and established them within an epistemological framework. While Calvin and Kuyper focused on the independence of the spheres and individuals thought, Dooyeweerd shifts a bit towards more interdependence of the “spheres” and individuals thought.

Jean Calvin: Reformed Foundations

            Jean Calvin laid out the foundations of Protestant Orthodoxy. Among the doctrines re-affirmed by Jean Calvin the sovereignty of God is at the center. Humanity on the other hand is far from it existing in a state of total depravity. Humanity therefore needs the grace of God to be manifested. God manifests God’s grace in a salvific manner for the elect and in a common manner for all in accordance with God’s sovereign will. This grace allows for freedom in Christ to overcome humanities bondage to sin equipping them for good deeds. It is this framework that becomes paramount for the Neo-Reformed life system.

            God maintains meticulous sovereignty over the entire creation. Nothing escapes the providence of God. Everything happens in accordance with God’s will and for God’s glory. God acts as the creator, sustainer, and ruler of the universe, superintending everything to the minutest detail. [1] A core component of God’s sovereignty is the election of a people to God-self. It is with the elect that God has a privileged relationship, working in the elect inwardly by the Spirit and outwardly by the Word. [2] From this sovereign control one sees God’s love for creation. Because God loves the elect, their salvation “is not acquired by slavish observance of the law, but is obtained by faith.”[3] One’s salvation is therefore not dependent upon works of the law but on faith. This faith is also a gift of God.  Because it is of God, and not of oneself, there is assurance of eternal life. Hence God receives all the glory for the work of salvation.

            God’s meticulous sovereignty becomes all the more necessary because of the fallen nature of humanity. Humanity exists in a totally depraved state. Nothing about the human being is pure following the fall, everything has been crippled by sin along with everything that emanates from humanity. [4]  Humanity thereby is alienated from the righteousness of God, incapable of desiring or doing anything pure and upright, while outwardly it might appear as if some do righteous deeds inwardly they are filled with corruption such that it is bound up in wickedness. [5] Humanity has gone astray and is only capable of going astray on its own. There is nothing in humanity of any merit or worth, only sin and shame. Humanity stands in utter and complete need of the grace of God. But it is only when one understands the magnitude of the breadth and depth of sins depravity in humanity that one can see the full sweetness of divine grace. [6] Once one has received God’s saving grace they are no longer their own, but rather live and die to God. [7]

            God’s sovereignty is manifested to everyone through common grace. God acts to maintain the world, meaning that human depravity, even in the non-elect, is restricted. Some of this is done through societal restrictions. [8] Because humanity is a social animal there is a natural instinct to seek to preserve society through civil institutions. God appoints rulers and principalities to govern people and insure that justice is maintained between the peoples. The necessity of this is affirmed by everyone’s God given reason. [9] This common grace not only acts to sustain it also acts to purify in such a way that the elect have freedom in the world to enjoy life, provided that one maintains a focus on living in accordance with the will of God. [10] This means that charity must be shown toward the entire human race, seeing them not in themselves but in God. [11] The elect bear a unique responsibility as those that have been gifted with the special grace necessary to perform these good deeds by virtue of their regeneration. [12] Overall, one sees that purity, piety, holiness, and justice emanates from God, as a gift of common grace in, from, and for, the elect. [13]

            Being equipped to perform good deeds gives the elect a true freedom in Christ. God gives the elect both the will and the power to perform the good work, and hence God receives all the glory. [14] It is thereby a gift of grace that humanity obtains liberty, is filled with joy, is able to persevere, has a will that possesses the good, all of which establishes the dependency of humanity on God. [15] This freedom is still subject to the will and sovereignty of God governing the affairs of the world. [16]  Christians also have a spiritual freedom, a freedom from sin and its guilt.[17] Part of the Christian’s liberty is the recognition that justification is not by the law but by the grace of God in accordance with God’s sovereignty. [18] No merit can possibly be derived from free will as it is all an act of God. [19] One’s merits are derived after the forgiveness of sins when the perfections of Christ are imputed upon the elect. [20] This means that there is a balance to be had between becoming so unnerved by one’s own depravity that one does not use their freedom to accomplish God’s will and yet still be restrained enough not to go beyond ones calling. [21] Any freedom one enjoys is for life, not luxury, being content within ones station.[22] In the interest of charity, all excess should be used for the benefit of others. The liberty that one has is to be subservient to one’s charity and charity in turn subservient to purity of faith. [23] Ultimately if the use of one’s freedom causes another to stumble in the interest of charity that freedom should not be exercised and both freedom and charity are subject to one’s own faith commitments.

Abraham Kuyper—Sphere Sovereignty

            Abraham Kuyper builds from the foundations set by Jean Calvin for the Reformed tradition. Kuyper formulates a model for Christian engagement in the world within the Reformed framework. Kuyper begins with the cultural mandate to “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Gen 1:28b). Like Adam cultivated the garden, humanity now continues the cultivation in culture. The foundations for culture are laid within the creational order to be developed by humanity. Christians by virtue of their humanity, participates within culture, developing the various spheres of culture for the glory of God.  Kuyper argues for Christian engagement in the spheres of politics, science, aesthetics, business, and ecclesial working towards the redemption of each sphere. Kuyper is able to do this while standing firmly within the Reformed tradition by appealing to the sovereignty of God over every sphere and the common grace of God enabling free Christian engagement.

            Common grace is understood as a gift of God that relaxes the curse that was upon the creation, limiting the curse only to that which is sinful within creation. [24] This emphasis on common grace allows for the Reformed tradition to escape the dualisms of human life that are established in partial religions. [25]  The Reformed tradition maintains a monism that preserves the one-ness of human life because it is one-God that upholds it. With all dualisms removed including the nature and grace dualism characteristic of the Romanist tradition, the Reformed tradition is able to conclude that the grace of God restores nature.[26]  

            The congregation simply cannot just retreat to their churches and let the world do as it will.[27] Even though the whole creation is dead in its sin the ideal remains that the whole creation would give glory to God and it is this ideal that the Christian strives after. [28] The church exists for the sake of the world, to be the salt and light of the world. The congregation therefore looks first to God and then to their neighbor who is made in the image of God. [29] The salvation of this world is not done through ethical philosophizing but rather by placing everything face to face with the divine that their heart might tremble at God’s majesty. [30] This is not just the posture of a select few but rather there is a priesthood of all believers, all are tasked, by virtue of their faith in the true King, to have an impact in every aspect of their being, and it is that faith that binds them together in Christ.[31] The unity of the Universal church is therefore a spiritual unity that finds its basis for its existence in heaven.[32]

            The state is derived from an extension of the creational normative of the family as a necessity for societal living.[33] The magistrate on the other hand comes about because of sin as an instrument of common grace to restrain the forces of sin/ evil in the world.[34] The magistrate thereby has the God given authority to bear the sword in three ways: the sword of justice, the sword of war and the sword of order.[35] The sword of justice is to insure that justice is given to all regardless of means, that the spheres maintain their own autonomy and are not threatened or threatening the autonomy of others and that the spheres are properly fulfilling their creational duties. [36] The sword of war is for the defense of the people against an attack. The sword of order is the power to tax and do everything that is necessary to preserve the proper ordering of society. The government also must be held in check by the other spheres as not to exceed its bounds.[37] For instance the government does not possess the means to properly interpret scripture, that is the duty of the church, and therefore there should be no state religion.[38] Nevertheless, all political systems find their basis in religious/ anti-religious conceptions of reality.[39] There is not religious neutrality in government. Government is capable of going beyond its sphere of control and going against the law of God. But nevertheless, government must still be submitted to by Christians as much as possible because governments are an instrument of God at work in the world.

            Each sphere therefore maintains its own God given authority.[40] The spheres do not derive nor depend upon government, the people, nor any other entity for their authority, but it is given to them by God, to be used in accordance with God’s will. The spheres have an independence that they might use their freedom to accomplish the task that is assigned to them without interference of the rest. In the scientific sphere therefore the normalist has just as much right to build an argument to support its conclusions, but the abnormalists must be given that same freedom as well.[41] Neither the church nor the state should stop the normalist from articulating its conclusions even if it does disagree with the biblical narrative.

            The Christian is therefore to conduct themselves in the way of godliness in each of the sovereign spheres. This way of godliness is in part submission and in part resistance.  As has been discussed in part one submits to the rulers of each sphere that God has appointed in accordance with God’s sovereign providence. But on the other hand sin is still an active and vibrant force in the world impacting every aspect of creation including the demonic, nature and humanity.[42]  As Christians encounter these forces at work in the world they are to operate in accordance with the guiding principle of what is the will of God concerning this?[43] God must mediate this process as human effort alone is vain and abominable.[44] It is only with the assistance of God that humanity is able to resist the threats posed in these three areas.

            As the world now stands the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan are pitted against each other.[45] But in principle Christ has conquered Satan at Calvary with the final defeat happening at the consummation.[46] God now permits Satan to molest creation but Christians are called to resist the devil’s schemes.[47] One must accept that it is under God’s dominion that they suffer and that from that suffering there is no escape.[48]  Nevertheless, by the sweat of one brow one is to work, battling with nature and all the other forces that stand against the righteousness of Christ. In some cases God has provided remedies in nature, herbs that assist in the healing process.[49] However, one should not zealously seek after conquering nature, all attempts to see after medical help which excludes the LORD must be condemned.[50]  In conflicts with other human beings, Christians do not resist, however, governments are exempted for the purposes of defense.[51] However, Christian’s passivity is even limited only to it affecting finances, comfort and pleasure, Christians cannot violate God’s law.[52] This does not give Christians the grounds to have a rebellious spirit.[53] Rather instead of ones guiding principle being peacekeeping it should be what is right according to the word of God.[54] This posture is done in all of the spheres including the church and state. In the church Christians hate all untruth seeking to win back all who have strayed.[55] There is tolerance where there is not fundamental doctrine on the line, and patience with those who are weak in the faith, but zealous resistance for the strong who are seeking after followers to false beliefs. It does this because there can be no lasting peace in the church without full harmony of belief.[56]

            The battle for the LORD in the various spheres begins within oneself.[57] The holier than thou attitude is sinful and abhorrent.[58] All have sinned, including the leaders of the various spheres. The leaders are not in the position they are in by their own virtue but by the LORD’s sovereign providence.[59] One’s task is to resist the forces of evil in every sphere, not for oneself but for the glory of God.[60] While the final defeat of evil is only completed upon Christ’s second coming there is still work that must be done in the meantime. While one watches for the LORD’s coming they are not to be idle, rather be preparing the way for the LORD.[61]

            Kuyper therefore has much in common with Jean Calvin. Like Calvin, Kuyper holds that all authority emanates from God in all areas of life. [62] Like Calvin, Kuyper sees a God that wants his creatures to put their resources to use and not be idle. [63] Like Calvin, Kuyper holds to the necessity of Christ for restoration and freedom. [64] However, Kuyper understands freedom a bit differently. When Calvin speaks of freedom it is freedom from the power of sin that one might become a servant of Christ. For Kuyper however, freedom is expanded to include a physical component, for instance for Kuyper there is freedom in government or church to elect ones leaders, or the insistence that Christians should be free to assert their own scientific findings. This expanded view of freedom comes from an expansion of Calvin’s conception of common grace. Under the old form of Reformed thought things like cards, theater, and dance were thought of as off limits for Christians because of some demonic underpinnings. There was still some things that were wrong in and of themselves. But Kuyper begins to challenge this notion, arguing that by virtue of the core goodness of creation and that in Christ all things have been made new such that nothing might be declared unclean, nothing is outside of the grace and sovereignty of God such that it would be forbidden to Christians.  

Herman Dooyeweerd—Modal Law Theory

            Dooyeweerd searches for the starting point for philosophical thought. On the side of theoretical thought many including Kant seek to root its foundations within itself. Others have sought to come at it from the position of the naïve essence in the phenomenological field but are still unable to escape the self. Each have rooted their thinking in the autonomy of thought, and found no need for justifying it.[65] In thought there are various modal aspects in which an entity participates in, these modal aspects include: a numerical aspect, a spatial aspect, an aspect of extensive-movement, an aspect of energy, a biotic aspect, a feeling/ sensation aspect, a logical aspect, a historical aspect, aspect of symbolical-significance (linguistic), aspect of social intercourse, economic, aesthetic, juridical/ moral aspect, and faith/ belief aspect.[66] These modal aspects function as special sciences, each playing a vital role in understanding the real phenomena itself but each in and of themselves still constitutes an abstraction of the real phenomena.[67] Therefore, Dooyeweerd preserves Kuyperian sphere sovereignty assigning particular tasks to each of the special sciences but goes beyond Kuyper to assert that in and of themselves they are incomplete. These special sciences require philosophy to combine the various modal aspects to get a fuller picture of the entity itself within its temporal horizons.[68] However, this cannot be done in theoretical abstraction it must be brought into coherence with the naïve experience.[69] The philosophical analysis of the entity must be done without the absolution of any particular modal aspect but must account for the irreducible diversity of the various modes of experiencing the entity.[70] The individual ego that is doing the experiencing and interpreting becomes of great importance in the quest for the starting point for philosophical thought.

            Some like Martin Buber have asserted a core relational nature to the human ego, an ‘I-thou” relationship. However, for Dooyeweerd, a temporal love as exists in an ‘I-thou’ cannot be the central nature of selfhood.[71] The core of the human ego must therefore be of divine origin, a sensus divinitatis. At the core of the human ego is a religious ego that functions as a guiding life-system for one’s life. It is only in the assertion of this religious ego that one can assert an absolute truth, although because of sin it is corrupted.[72] This religious basic motive is conditioned by it giving rise to a common belief within the faith aspect and gain a socio-cultural power within the historic aspect.[73]  Western philosophy has always been ruled by religious basic motives whether it be the Hellenistic form-matter motive, the radical biblical basic motive of creation, fall into sin, and redemption by Jesus Christ in the communion of the Holy Spirit, the scholastic motive of nature and grace or the Humanistic motive of nature and freedom. [74] However, while there are multiple religious starting points, each by virtue of common grace having something to contribute,[75] nevertheless do not force a relativizing of truth, but rather in illustrating where the core of the differences lies begins the real conversation about which religious system can lead to the absolutes being understood by the naïve essence and theoretical thought.[76]

            Several distinctions need to be made in how Dooyeweerd uses the term theology which is a special science concerned with the modal aspect of faith rooted in a biblical tradition, philosophy which operates as the framework for the dialectic between the modal aspects and their interaction with the naïve essence, and religion which acts as the core operating framework of one’s basic beliefs about the transcendent. Theology is just one modal aspect among many, it has no right to absolutize its particular modal aspect over and against the others as the queen of the sciences.[77] In this respect Dooyeweerd departs from not only the Thomist/ Romanist tradition and Barthian tradition but Kuyper as well. The theological cannot take the place of or supplant the philosophical. Theology in its scientific sense is bound to philosophical fundamentals which in turn are dependent on the central religious motive of theoretical thought.[78] The theological is nevertheless a significant special science in no small part because of its relationship to the core religious ego. For instance the theological doctrine of sin is going to have implications on the undergirding religious motive of creation, fall, and redemption.   

            The Word-Revelation plays a central role in the creation, fall, redemption religious ego occurring through the Holy Spirit to members of the true Catholic Church.[79]  God’s revelation is not preferential. “God does not speak to theologians, philosophers and scientists, but to sinners, lost in themselves, and made into his children through the operation of the Holy Spirit in their hearts.”[80] No specific modal aspect has a monopoly on the revelation of God, nor is any deserving of it. Rather by common grace in a Christo-centric sense all dualisms or privileging of particular spheres is rejected.

              Dooyeweerd is a unique figure of the three studied in this paper in that Dooyeweerd is a self-proclaimed Christian philosopher while the others see themselves as theologians. Nevertheless, Dooyeweerd still preserves many of the same aspects of Kuyper and the Kuyperian reading of Calvin. Common grace and freedom of the spheres certainly binds Dooyeweerd to Kuyper. However, while Kuyper seems to emphasize a core creational independence of the social spheres, Dooyeweerd sees some need for a dialectic between the special sciences through philosophy. Each of the sciences still maintain their own autonomy and freedom, but in order to arrive at the real phenomena itself a dialectic must take place between them and with the naïve essence. Dialectics were used by Calvin as well in Calvin’s portrayal of faith and repentance[81] and between justification and sanctification[82] but certainly nothing as broad sweeping as Dooyeweerd irreducibly diverse modal aspects that are at work in the real phenomena.

            A core staple for Dooyeweerd was the core religious ego which was derived from Calvin’s sensus divinatis via Abraham Kuyper. In Calvin everyone has a sense of the divine, in some it is distorted, but in everyone there is some concept of a god, that God has implanted in the hearts of humanity. [83] In Kuyper the sensus divinatis takes on the role of God’s working in humanity to stir and subject them to God’s judgment.[84] It is part of the confrontation God has with the various spheres such that they act in conformity with God’s will. Certainly like Calvin, Kuyper preserves the core religious nature of all things, holding that nothing can be religiously neutral. However, Kuyper has much more compulsion to conformity coming from the sensus divinatis than Calvin does. Dooyeweerd seems to revert back to Calvin in this regard having less compulsion to conformity than Kuyper’s use. For Dooyeweerd, it is a core piece of ones humanity receiving paramount importance, whereas in Calvin and Kuyper it is dealt with more in passing. 

Ethical Approaches

            The Neo-Reformed tradition offers a complete life-system for the Christian life in the world. This completeness is best seen in its comparison with the major ethical traditions, virtue ethics, deontological ethics and utilitarian ethics. Virtue ethics was developed by Aristotle. It sees the excesses as vices and the golden mean as that which is ethical. For instance when it comes to military valor cowardliness and rashness are vices acting as outliers on each side of the virtue of courage. One being a good person is based upon one living a long and virtuous life. However, for the Neo-Reformed tradition one is incapable of anything but vices on one’s own. It is only by the grace of God that humanity is equipped with the ability to do good. One’s righteousness is not based on works, but on the righteousness of Christ being imputed onto the elect.

            Deontological ethics was developed by Immanuel Kant. Kant affirms a categorical imperative which is acting only upon the maxims by which one would will to become a universal law. The ethical comprises part of the noumena, lying outside of observable phenomena. However, although it cannot be observed ethical principles can be affirmed as universal laws that govern every action. These universal laws are to be fulfilled by the individual out of duty. What one sees is therefore a duty to keep a universal law that is derived from the maxims that the rational individual determines. The deontological ethic has close connection to the golden rule of doing onto others as one would have them do unto you. However there are some stark contrasts particularly in its attempts to determine right and wrong outside of the ordinances of God, its conclusion that right action must emanate only from duty and the false dichotomy it is rooted in between the phenomena and noumena. 

            Utilitarian ethics was primarily developed in large part by John Stuart Mill. It seeks after accomplishing the greatest good for the greatest number. It seeks after establishing what will create the most about of joy for the most people. Its ethical value is entirely determined by the result rather than the means. However, this ethical system requires the ability to predict the future and the ability to make value judgments on how much pleasure one receives. For Mill it is the intellectual pleasures which are the highest pleasures and would therefore have the most weight in the determination.  Every part of this ethical position stands in contrast to the Neo-Reformed position. First in the Neo-Reformed tradition every step of the process matters, not just the ends. All actions not done from the primary motivation of the glory of God is deemed vain and abominable. Joy in and of itself is not wrong, but when it takes the place of God as it does in the Utilitarian ethic it runs against the Neo-Reformed tradition.

The Neo-Reformed Option

            For all of these theories ethics is part of a philosophical study that assigns a particular merit to some human actions because of a reasoned good nature of them. However, this is not the case in the Neo-Reformed tradition.   In the Neo-Reformed tradition ethics functions as a special science operating the same sphere as the juridical. Every real phenomena functions ethically, that is to say the entity is not value neutral. A nuclear warhead is capable of only death and destruction and therefore would be ethically problematic because of that chief operation. As a modal aspect, ethics functions alongside of the other modes with the same freedom of operation. In isolation, ethics remains as much of an abstraction of the real phenomena as the others modal aspects.

            Moral law for the Neo-Reformed tradition is not something that originates from nature but rather is imposed upon nature by God who gives them their authority. [85] It is therefore not natural law but a creational normative established in common grace by divine intervention. However, this is creational law is obscured such that God gave humanity a written law, a law rooted in love of God and love of neighbor to guide ones actions.[86] The guiding action for the Neo-Reformed tradition is seeking after the will of God in everything they do, whether it causes controversy or not, always standing up and resisting evil wherever it is found. It recognizes that no good works emanates from humanity, all is a gift of God to humanity, therefore there is no merit to be had in the doing of good works. Rather they are simply acts of obedience. Christians are not to go sin all the more that grace may abound rather in the doing of good deeds give all the glory to God who has bestowed it.

Application of the Neo-Reformed Life-System

            As Abraham Kuyper once said, “there is not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which, Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry ‘mine.’” Every square inch, every fiber of the created order has been claimed by Christ for the kingdom people to enjoy. Christians therefore must be workers with God in every sphere of life, preparing the way for the redemption of Christ. This is the task of all Christians, not just a select few ‘ecclesial leaders.’ Everyone is called to work, to be an active participant in the world, in the process of bringing about reform in the culture. 

            This involves a total transformation of one’s world-and-life-view. No longer does one see the world in dualistic categories, but rather sees the world and life as an irreducibly diverse entity in its own right. This world was created as such by one God who sovereignly directs its path. Given this one’s life and conduct do matter as economics, aesthetics, government and other spheres are not estranged from the covenant of grace. Because all of creation matters to God one must take seriously the call to stewardship in every sphere of life. For the Christian call is not to just be Christians in the sphere of the church, but to allow Christianity to permeate every fiber of ones being such that it flows out of one in every sphere of life.  

            Perhaps most importantly the Neo-Reformed life-system offers a comprehensive framework for the biblically rooted life. At its core it operates from a central religious ego of creation, fall, redemption which constitutes the crux and monistic nature of the biblical narrative. Because of these deep religious convictions there is a resistance to corruptions of the creational normatives be it from demons, nature or humanity.  It allows its faith in the meticulous sovereignty of God to saturate the believer’s life in these trials and in all of life. This allows one to escape looking at one’s own works and instead turning to the perfection of Christ. [87] It is because of the goodness of God that one’s works become meritorious and thereby one endeavors to live in obedience to God. [88]  It is this belief that allows the Neo-Reformed believer to no longer live for themselves, giving up their body as a living sacrifice for the sake of God and by extension God’s image bearers on earth. [89] Therefore the Neo-Reformer will help the poor, support good caused and prevent the weak from being harmed.[90] The only limit to one’s beneficence should be a failure of means. [91] However, as the curse extends beyond humanity, so to must the Neo-Reformers work, seeking to redeem each and every sphere to a right relationship before God.

Concluding Remarks

            Ethics therefore has a role to play in the Neo-Reformed tradition, it occupies a modal aspect all its own within each real phenomena. But it is just a component and not the whole of the real phenomena itself. The modal aspects, ethics included, are shaped by a religious ego. For the Neo-Reformer rooted in the creation, fall, redemption religious tradition they will have an ethical tradition that is rooted in discovering the will of God and seeking to obey that will by the strength and power that God provides such that God might receive all the glory. Nevertheless, try as one might righteousness is not obtained by moral works but rather by the imputed righteousness of Christ. It is Christ that gives Christian’s freedom, in common grace, to engage the world and participate with God in the restoration of the spheres.  

            One’s religious beliefs are not a component of ones humanity, but are the crux of ones humanity in which the rest are dependent upon. The Neo-Reformed tradition believes that every aspect of one’s life is sacred, not just the soul and church, and therefore, Christians need a framework for putting ones faith into practice in every aspect of life. The Neo-Reformed tradition does this through the establishment of sphere sovereignty, spheres in which all people participate on a regular basis each with its own God given autonomy. Christians are called to engage in these spheres, working in them for the glory of God. Hence the Neo-Reformed tradition offers a complete life-system for Christians as they live their lives in the world that God created, and by God’s sovereign will placed them in to be doers of the divine will.
 
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