Thursday, February 25, 2010

All Creatures... Pt 2

So, there are a tonne of scriptures that I want to get to but let's start in the beginning. It's all fine and good to talk about caring for creation but this topic gets so convoluted so quickly that before we get too far we need to make sure we're anchored in the right spot.

We start with the creation of the heavens and the earth. God created, and step-by-step He called everything He made "good."

[What does that say to us about how we should interact with His creation?]

Now, normally we attribute God's final statement about creation, "very good," to His creation of humanity but, strictly speaking, that's not quite accurate. Genesis 1:31 (ESV) "And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good" (my emphasis).

It is the whole of creation that God is so pleased with.

[So again I ask: What does that say to us about how we should interact with His creation?]

I would also like to draw to your attention that in Gen. 1:30 it says that all of the animal world "...has the breath of life...". It is not just humanity that God breathed His breath of life into. So, while animals are not Image Bearers we do share the life giving breath of God with them. [And on top of this we need to remember that in both Greek and Hebrew the word for "breath/wind" is the same word as "spirit." ... in fact, in the LXX it doesn't even say "breath/spirit"; it says SOUL]

This explains Solomon's words in Ecclesiastes 3:19 (ESV) "For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity." (also see: Gen. 7:15)

And, of course, we see in Genesis 1 & 2 that mankind live in complete unity with the plant and animal world. Adam & Eve, as bearers of the Divine Image, rule over creation and creation submits to their rule.

[In what way should we "rule/have dominion" over creation? What does it look like to rule over creation in a Godly way?]

It is only with the Fall of mankind that this unity with the created world falls apart. With the curses (3:14-22) we see the division between humanity and both the animal world and the plant world (and obviously the division between man-God; man-man... that's a given). Mankind is cast-out from the Garden and the holistic unity of God's "very good" creation is broken.

But does this mean that God's mandate that Mankind rule over all of creation is done with?

Absolutely not! The same language that God used with Adam & Eve is used when God makes a Covenant with Noah after the flood: "be fruitful and multiply" (Gen. 9:1, 7), all animals are "given into your hands" (9:2). (also check out: Gen. 7:3; 8:1)

The part that really strikes me about the Noahic Covenant is that God doesn't just make the covenant with Noah; He also makes it with animals.

Now you're all going to think that I'm really off my rocker!

Well, read it for yourself:
Genesis 9:12 (ESV) "And God said, "This is the sign of the covenant I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations..." (my emphasis; also check out 9:15, 16).

A covenant "for all future generations" that includes God, Mankind, and the animals.

And again:
Genesis 9:13 (ESV) "I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth."

God makes a covenant with the earth.

So, what do you think?

In posts that will come soon we'll move into the Mosaic Law and the rest of the scriptures so let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Putting aside our preconceived notions of what "environmentalism" means in our contemporary world what do you think these passages (and any others from GENESIS that you might think of) say to us about how God relates to nature and how we need to relate to nature?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

"All creatures of our God and King..."

Here's another big word for you: anthropocentrism. It means to view the world as though humanity (Gr. anthropos) is the centre of it all. Evangelical Christians (like myself) are notoriously anthropocentric.

Take for example our favorite verse, John 3:16 (ESV) 16 "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."

The way we read this is usually like so: "For God so loved humanity, that he..." But is that what it says? I'd say no! For God so loved the world. The New Testament word here is kosmos which refers to the observable created order; God sent Jesus because He loves ALL of his physical creation. That means trees and tigers, earthworms and elephants, hamsters and humans.

God didn't send Jesus to die for me (not only is that anthropocentric, it's egocentric!), He sent Jesus to redeem all of creation (which, thankfully, happens to include me).

As we saw in my last post, Romans 8 tells us that all of creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth (ever been in a delivery room!?! That's a vivid metaphor). Creation suffers under the curse of sin and God's plan is not to send humans to heaven when they die and then let the rest of creation perish. God's plan is to recreate the world into the place He originally intended it to be.

Understand this: heaven is not our home. Heaven is a pit-stop on the road to a New Heaven and a New Earth (Is. 65:17; Rev. 21:1). I don't know if there will be dogs in heaven but there were a whack-load of animals in Eden and I'm guessing a recreated "Eden" won't be any different!

So what does this have to do with my previous post? Everything.

Jesus inaugurated His Kingdom and we, as His followers, are to continue His work until He comes again to bring it to completion/perfection. If His task was nothing less than the redemption of the whole of creation then this, too, is our task.

Yes, Conservative Evangelicals, I am saying that it is part of our God ordained mission to care for plants and animals (insert shocked gasps).

No, I'm not getting all "PETA" or "Greenpeace" on you. If you know me you know that I have no problem shooting and eating animals. I have no problem cutting down trees and using them for firewood or to build something with. I hunt and camp frequently... in fact, that's part of why I care deeply about this.

The fact is that the Bible does give us a theology of zoology. The Bible gives us a theological framework for environmentalism. For some reason we don't like using these words, so we usually call it stewardship... but we also usually ignore this topic all together.

[ I blame American dispensationalists but they're pretty easy to blame ] :)

There's a lot more I'd like to say and explore so please join me over the next number of weeks and leave your input.

So, what do you think?
What scriptures speak to our stewardship of the animal and plant world?
What do you think that passage from Romans 8 means to us?
What do you agree/disagree with so far?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Really big, fancy words

OK, so I was getting ready to do a post that I've wanted to do for a while now, but as I was thinking it through I realized that before we can eat the meal we need to set the table.

I realized that underneath the ideas of this post there were some pretty big assumptions. In order for for this post to make sense we need to have a common starting point.

Inaugurated Eschatology.

Yup, really big fancy words.

To inaugurate means: to initiate something or put it into operation.
Eschatology means: "eschatos" (Gr. last) "ology" the study of = the study of the last/end-times.

Inaugurated Eschatology.

I am assuming that underneath it all, we as Christians understand that a large part of what it means that we are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), that Jesus is the firstborn among the dead (Col 1:18; Rev. 1:5), and that we have the firstfruits of the Spirit (Rom. 8:23) is that we are to live lives of inaugurated eschatology.

Basically what I'm saying is that as Christians we need to live our lives in light of God's future. The Kingdom of God is the breaking in of God's future reign into today, into the here and now.

It's a bit of an heady concept, no?

But truly, this is the basis for all Christian behaviour. Biblical theology shows us the "bookends" of our faith: Eden and the New Jerusalem. In between is the fallen world that we currently live in; God's good creation under the curse of sin.

But do we live our lives like the rest of the fallen world? Of course not! No, we seek to live our lives in light of the Gospel: the true Lordship and reign of the Christ which is seen in original creation and new creation.

"...Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven..."

In other words, we (as new creations) are to begin God's work of New Creation (as we see it in Gen. 1 & 2 and Rev. 21 & 22) here and now. We aren't just here to bide time until God cleans up our mess. No! We are to be working for the Kingdom of God.

Inaugurated Eschatology: to put into operation today the reality of God's future reign.

And so, in preparation for next week's post read through and ponder this passage from Romans:

Romans 8:19-23 (ESV)
19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Truly Canadian

I have the best wife ever!

As a bit of a Valentine's Day surprise she booked us the best baby-sitters around (thanks grandma & grandpa) and rented some snowshoes for the afternoon. The weather was beautiful. We had a great time!
Neither of us had gone snowshoeing before. I enjoyed it a lot... and Juanita did pretty sweet, especially considering she's 6 months pregnant :)

An added bonus for me was that I was able to put my Gransfors-Bruks to the test for the first time. That's what Family Day is all about.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Pharisee and the Gospel

Last week we looked at the way the Gospel/Good News (euangelion) was used in the writings of Matthew and Mark. In these books my thesis that euangelion is a proclamation of the Lordship of Christ held up pretty well. The majority of the time euangelion is coupled with the kingdom of God/Heaven which makes a perfect connection.

But the fact is that compared to Paul, the biographers of Jesus barely used the word gospel. Here's the full break-down of euangelion:
Matthew x4
Mark x7
Acts x2
Paul x59

So while there is definitely a huge level of significance as to how Jesus used the word (or it was used in direct reference to His ministry) if we want to really wrestle with this we have to wrestle with Paul.

Now, in my opinion, Paul was too educated for our own good :)

I don't remember where I heard it (so don't go spouting it off like I'm about to) but I remember hearing somewhere that today's equivalent of Paul's Pharisaical education is that of at least 2 doctorates.

Paul's writing is dense, intricate, "wordy", full of run-on-sentences (which are allowed in Greek), metaphors, mixed-metaphors, analogies, vague illusions... the list can go on. There is no doubt that Paul was an intellectual and wrote as an intellectual. Paul's writings make the Gospel of Mark and Peter's letters (for example) look like "Run Spot, run!"

As a side note, it is unfortunate for us as English readers when our translations "smarten up" rough Greek like Mark's and Peter's and at the same time "dumb down" Paul's Greek. We lose the personality of the writers when the language in our translations are homogenized.

Anyway, all of that is to say that Paul's usage of euangelion is rather diverse. He doesn't use it in a conveniently uniform way like we saw in Matthew and Mark. Instead we see him using phrases like, "the gospel of your salvation" (Eph. 1:13) or "the gospel of peace" (Eph. 6:15). These don't fit nicely with my thesis and therefore must be ignored... just joking.

Instances such as these fit better with a literal translation of euangelion ("good news") rather than an idiomatic (Lordship proclamation) translation. This brings me back to my original question from a few weeks ago: is it better to educate people on the semantic range of our word Gospel or is it better to translate it differently depending on its context?

Aside from that, I think I could probably make a case that "the gospel of peace" can still fit within my thesis (see Mounce's def'n in my original post). At the very least we can agree that euangelion is not confined to an announcement of personal salvation, nor is it quite so simple as a literal good news. The New Testament usage of it is way too broad to be simplified into either of those.

Michael F. Bird addresses complex words like gospel in his introduction to Pauline theology:
"In the ancient world, the title 'Lord' (Kyrios) was also used of the Roman emperor. In the Roman era, terms like grace, gospel, parousia, justice, freedom, Lord, saviour, and Son of God were employed in Roman political propaganda and utilized in the prayers and rites of the imperial cult, which focused on worship of the Roman emperor. By analogy, then, the 'good news' that 'Jesus is Lord' carried with it the implication that Caesar was not Lord... We see that Paul's gospel had theopolitical consequences in that it claimed for Jesus an immense authority and power which threatened that of Rome" (Introducing Paul, 84).

In fact, Bird uses the comparison that proclaiming the Lordship of Christ in the Roman world would have been pretty much the same as proclaiming 'Jesus ist Fuhrer!' in Nazi Germany!! An interesting analogy.

And I still think that a significant portion of the time that Paul talks about euangelion it fits closely with this idea of Lordship:
"gospel of Christ" x8 (Rom. 15:19; 1Cor. 9:12; 2Cor. 2:12, 9:13, 10:14; Gal. 1:7; Phil. 1:27; 1Thess. 3:2)
"gospel of God" x5 (Rom. 1:1, 15:16; 1Thess. 2:2, 2:8, 2:9)
"gospel of his son" (Rom. 1:9)
"gospel of our Lord Jesus" (2Thess. 1:8)
"glorious gospel of the blessed God" (1Tim.1:11)
"gospel of the glory of Christ" (2Cor. 4:4)

There is absolutely no doubt that the theme of Lordship is evident all throughout Paul's writings. After all, by my quick count, Paul uses the phrase "Lord Jesus" or "Lord Jesus Christ" a minimum of 72 times as well as referring to the Kingdom of God (of whom, of course, Jesus is Lord) a minimum of 14times.

However, a lot of the time the way Paul uses euangelion is ambiguous enough that you can't strongly argue for or against a specific definition. An example of that is Romans 15:20 - "and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel..." This usage is so generic that it doesn't exactly lend any weight to either side.

The phrase that got me scratching my head was "my gospel" x3 (Rom. 2:16, 16:25; 2Tim. 2:8).
This doesn't really fit with my "Lordship" definition. Here Paul seems to simply mean "the message that I preached to you."

So it appears that Paul's usage of euangelion does include, but is not limited to a Lordship proclamation. Depending on the context Paul flexes the word to make it fit his purpose; typical Paul!

Anyway, what do you think?
What other texts might tie into this?
What do you think about the translation issue?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Gospel in the Gospels

So, the theme that I'm running with for the next few weeks is that there may be a need for us to rethink what the Gospel/Good News (euangelion) really means. Our tendency as Western Christians has been to personalize/individualize our faith and so the Gospel has been taken by many to mean: the good news of my personal salvation... Christ died for me.

I'm certainly not going to argue the basic truth of such statements, but that is not what the Gospel is. Based on what we talked about last week, the thesis that I'm testing (and please understand that this is a trial-run of this idea. I'm arguing for this idea to see if it holds under scrutiny... so please provide some) here is that the Gospel is a proclamation of the Lordship of Jesus.

And, just so you know, this isn't just me making stuff up. Aside from some very major New Testament scholars pursuing this theme, the fact that Bible translation guru, Bill Mounce (ESV, NIV2011), would include "...rise to power, or decree of the emperor that was to herald the fulfillment of hopes for peace and wellbeing in all the world..." in his definition of Gospel really says something.

So this week we're going to tackle the usage of Gospel in... the Gospels:

Surprisingly, euangelion doesn't show up all that often in the Gospels!
Matthew x4
Mark x7
Luke x0
John x0
**Gospel may show up in Luke & John in our English translations but (and I checked) euangelion isn't there in the Greek.**

In Matthew the euangelion is intimately linked with the Kingdom (Mt. 4:23; 9:35; 24:14). This makes perfect sense with this "proclaiming Lordship" definition of Gospel. If Jesus is preaching the Good News of the Kingdom of God then to think of the gospel as a proclamation that there is a New King and a New era coming into being fits perfectly.

In fact, that is one of the major themes of Matthew: that Jesus, the descendant of King David is the one true heir to the throne of Israel and is bringing about a new Kingdom, one where the purposes of Israel are being fulfilled through Him.

Basically, there's no way that we can really think of gospel as being about personal salvation (at least not in the 4 Gospels) because Jesus is preaching the gospel prior to His death and resurrection!

Observe Mark 1:14-15 (ESV)
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."

Again we see this link between the Kingdom and the Gospel. Again, the gospel cannot mean Jesus' substitutionary sacrifice for us because it hasn't happened yet. So, in order for those people to "believe in the gospel" it has to mean something else. Again, in my mind, it makes perfect sense that Jesus would mean:

"The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe [that God's Messiah is the one true ruler of all creation]"... or something along those lines.

This also makes perfect sense with Jesus' constant healings and exorcisms. If the only reason why Jesus came was to die for my sins why did He bother doing all that extra stuff? He did it to demonstrate that He was the true Lord of Creation coming to claim His rightful throne. Jesus had God-given power and authority over all creation: physical (healings, calming seas, multiplying food, etc) and spiritual (exorcisms, forgiving of sins, etc).

So, what do you think?
Is this starting to make sense?
What problems with this idea do you see?
What strengths?