Friday, August 31, 2012

Christus Victor or Buddy Christ?

While reading Robert Webber's book Ancient-Future Faith, I was struck by a topic that he raised, something I feel that we in the Church really need to hear on a regular basis--Christus Victor. Christ the Victor. According to Webber, this understanding of the work of Christ dominated the writings of early Fathers for the first thousand years or so. Jesus did not merely come to bring me my own prepackaged and personalized single-serving salvation, he came to redeem the cosmos. This high Christology is what we find in Colossians 1:15-23.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by
him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and
invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were
created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold
together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and
the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the
supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and
through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or
things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your
minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's
physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish
and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm,
not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you
heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which
I, Paul, have become a servant (emphasis mine).

While I realize that there are several atonement theories out there (Ransom/Christus Victor, Satisfaction, and Subjective/moral influence theories seem to be the main three), I am not trying to get hung up on one over the other at this point since I am still trying to understand this and study it myself. I do, however, believe that we would definitely do well to understand the universal implications of Christ's victory in His death, burial and resurrection. Here in the ego-centric US of A we have a tendency to think only in personal terms. It is easy for us to loose the epic view of Jesus Christ's work. This world does not belong to satan. After His resurrection Jesus told his disciples:

"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Matthew 28:18-20

Notice the inclusive scope--ALL authority in Heaven and on EARTH. This is the launch point for the commission.

Where is the fire in our souls when we hear the resurrection story on Easter or any other time? We are often guilty of turning Jesus into our buddy. We take the call to a close relationship with God as a license to make him safe and cool and ok with our sin. This weak, anemic Jesus is left ineffectual to conquer and heal the evil of this world. Jesus calls us friend (incidentally, the somewhat popular song "I Am a Friend of God" would work best in the context of Jesus' original dependent clause "if you obey my commandments") , but this does not demote Him from His being "the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation..."

I just wonder what would happen to our understanding of the Kingdom and our daily walks if we heard more sermons about Christ's work instead of self-help or self-affirmation. Listen to these concluding words from an Easter sermon by Melito of Sardis (A.D. 195):

But He rose from the dead and mounted up to the heights of heaven.
When the Lord had clothed Himself with humanity, and had suffered for the
sake of the sufferer, and had been bound for the sake of the imprisoned, and had
been judged for the sake of the condemned, and buried for the sake of the one
who was buried, He rose up from the dead, and cried with a loud voice:
Who is he that contends with me? Let him stand in opposition to me. I set
the condemned man free; I gave the dead man life; I raised up the one who had
been entombed. Who is my opponent? I, He says, am the Christ. I am the one who
destroyed death, and triumphed over the enemy, and trampled Hades underfoot, and
bound the strong one, and carried off man to the heights of heaven. I, He says,
am the Christ.

Christ has triumphed. Death is dead. Christ has conquered sin and all the powers of darkness in the spiritual realms. Christ is the Victor! And He is the Head of His Church.

"This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, [Nick], have become a servant."

(Updated from previous post @

Monday, August 27, 2012

What Can Good Will Hunting Teach Us About Thinking For Ourselves?

Perhaps you've met someone who seems to have opinions on a topic until they are challenged by someone else questioning them deeper. Then they stonewall--defenses go up or they check out. I know several people that are this way, and I pray to never be one of them.

I think one of the reasons people do this is that they do not truly own their beliefs. They have never really engaged in critical thinking on the issue, rather they have blindly accepted someone else's words. They believe the philosophy or the theology of whomever they are reading or listening to at the time. At first they like one pastor/author, then another pastor/author calls them a heretic and he falls out of their good graces. All of this reminds me of a scene from the movie Good Will Hunting:

                  There's no problem. I was just hoping 
                  you could give me some insight into 
                  the evolution of the market economy 
                  in the early colonies. My contention 
                  is that prior to the Revolutionary 
                  War the economic modalities especially 
                  of the southern colonies could most 
                  aptly be characterized as agrarian 
                  precapitalist and...

          Will, who at this point has migrated to 
          Chuckie's side and is completely fed-up, 
          includes himself in the conversation.

                  Of course that's your contention. 
                  You're a first year grad student. 
                  You just finished some Marxian 
                  historian, Pete Garrison prob'ly, 
                  and so naturally that's what you 
                  believe until next month when you 
                  get to James Lemon and get convinced 
                  that Virginia and Pennsylvania were 
                  strongly entrepreneurial and 
                  capitalist back in 1740. That'll 
                  last until sometime in your second 
                  year, then you'll be in here 
                  regurgitating Gordon Wood about the 
                  Pre-revolutionary utopia and the 
                  capital-forming effects of military 

                            (taken aback)
                  Well, as a matter of fact, I won't, 
                  because Wood drastically 
                  underestimates the impact of--

                  "Wood drastically underestimates the 
                   impact of social distinctions 
                   predicated upon wealth, especially 
                   inherited wealth..." You got that 
                   from "Work in Essex County," Page 
                   421, right? Do you have any thoughts 
                   of your own on the subject or were 
                   you just gonna plagiarize the whole 
                   book for me?

             Clark is stunned.

                   Look, don't try to pass yourself off 
                   as some kind of an intellect at the 
                   expense of my friend just to impress 
                   these girls.


(From script at

This conversation inherently points to the problem of not thinking for one's self. Our minds float along like the feather in Forrest Gump, carried by the winds of change. And when some one calls us to task, asking why we believe what we believe, do we have any solid footing? Have we thought through it all and arrived at honest conclusions? Or are we merely mentally plagiarizing the work of others?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Why Disciples Should Be the #1 Priority

Yesterday I sat down in a pastor's office to discuss his thoughts on discipleship. From the church website I could see that it was a big deal to him and the life of his church, so I wanted to meet with him and find out what that looks like. When he sat on his couch, kicked off his shoes and propped his feet up on a chair I knew this guy was comfortable in his own skin and was going to be real with me. If I were to write all of what we talked about, it would fill a whole string of blog posts, but I'll share with you one important insight from our time together.

Pastors should focus on making disciples. Too often we try to develop servants or givers or people who will share the Gospel. We may succeed in developing all those things in our people without ever really making disciples. A person can be a giver without being a true follower of Jesus. A person could serve the needs of the community without being a disciple. Someone can even witness to others without being truly a disciple of Jesus. How do we know this? Just think of what people in our churches would do if we took away the nursery, the youth group time, the padded seating, the flashy lights and rock star worship performances...what about the air conditioning or heat? True disciples are there for Jesus--not for any of these other reasons. True disciples are consumed with Jesus (what a novel idea!). However, if we spend our time growing and cultivating disciples, then we will have churches filled with givers, servants, evangelists, teachers, etc. etc. because true disciples do all of those things.

This is an interesting thought that rings true. We often get consumed with getting the fruits on the tree and we spend our time on the fruit rather than cultivating and feeding the tree itself. Can you imagine someone going throughout an orchard stapling apples to sick or dead trees?
 "Why is this fruit rotting on the tree?"
 "Wake up and smell the coffee, Einstein, the tree is dead. Start growing trees that bear fruit in keeping with repentance."

So let me finish by asking some logical questions:

Why are many (if not most) of our churches focusing on life enhancement, like some late night infomercial, rather than getting to the core of discipleship?

Why do we work so hard to attract people to our churches based on self-gratification and materialistic pyrotechnics, when following Jesus (you know...the Guy who said to people who thought they were ready to jump on the band wagon, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head," or, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.") is ultimately to lead them in the opposite direction? How many people would still show up to church if they knew that they might be arrested?

Why are we building our houses on the sand of feel-good-
fluff and superficial community? (Matt 7:26-27).

Why shouldn't discipleship be every pastor's number one priority?