Sunday, September 12, 2010

In the Mind or in the Flesh?

As I mentioned in my video I am really trying to work toward posting something of substance once a day. I was 3 for 5 this past week, skipping out on what I am reading and Fun Friday. The cultural analysis dealt with the whole debacle that was the Qu'ran burning. All that to say, I truly desire to be committed to this as it helps me regularly think through my day and process through all I'm consuming. So here I'm contributing thoughts on two books I am currently reading.

The first is a more technical text, Craig Blomberg's The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. The title gives away the goal of the book - to see how truly reliable the gospels are in telling the life of Jesus. As honestly as he can being an evangelical Christian, Blomberg claims to "neither presupposed nor argue for the complete inerrancy, infallibility or inspiriation of Scripture, even just with the Gospel" stating further he wears his "historian's hat," not his "Christian believer's hat in this project." Early on in the book he applies this historical approach to the foundation of Christianity:
Christianity is based on the concept of God acting in history. Despite the oft-quoted verse 'we walk by faith and not by sight' (2 Cor 5:7), Christianity does not require a 'leap in the dark' or a sacrifice of the intellect. Paul is quoted entirely out of context when this verse is treated as a rationale for believing without evidence (cf. 1 Cor 15:3-8). Biblical faith is fundamentally committed to a God who has intervened in the history of humanity in a way that exposes his activity to historical study.
This is powerful on a number of levels:
  1. It is easy to jack up verses and Scripture, co-opting them for our own purposes. We treat each verse as the little strip of paper found in a fortune cookie that we keep in our back pocket, forgetting that the Bible tells the full story of God's redemptive plan. Though the verse numbers are helpful, sometimes I wish we could tear them out.
  2. God works in history. This assumes God exists and that the God who exists is at work in the world in an active way. God is somehow involved through the course of this world's movement - past, present, and future.
  3. We can study God's work. Being exposed to God and His work in the world, we can study, analyze, ponder, and explore his activity in such a way that we can make thoughtful, meaningful conclusions.
This can all-too-often occur solely on the conceptual level, however. Those last two points are logical possibilities and so it is easy to proceed by our strict commitment to logic, not to reality. Even if one disagrees with the tenets of Christianity, there is intellectual integrity within the system of Christianity itself. Thus we are prone to think of, and may even default toward, the idea that God works in history, holding Christianity only as a worldview instead of holding onto Christ, who is our life (Col. 3:3).

Here is where the second book comes into play. In his book, The Peacemaking Pastor, Alfred Poirier admits the dry intellectualism that never actualizes to concrete belief by labeling himself a "closet heretic." His heresy and that of countless other pastors? Docetism. He writes,
Remember the heresy of the ancient church? Docetism is failing to believe that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. Docetism is the belief that the Son of God only appeared to be, or seemed to be, fully man.
This is of course a statement that has implied qualification. Poirer, nor the other pastors, object against Christ's humanity outright; he says it's simply sheer unbelief. Leaders of the church function daily with the idea of Christ coming to this earth 2000 years ago as God in the flesh, but it remains as mere concept with no real impact on how they pray, preach, counsel, evangelize, serve, or love. Seeking to move his readers through the mind to the heart, Poirer shares these convicting words:
Christ is no phantom. The real Jesus is no Hollywood Jesus walking two feet off the ground. The ministry of the Pastor of pastors in the ministry of the God-man--a man whose feet are blistered and dirtied by the long, hot days of walking dusty roads. In Christ we find a pastor whose hands are calloused by being about his Father's business--hands clasped in prayer, touching lepers, wiping eyes full of tears, and breaking bred. The first Pastor was a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering. The first Pastor was a lover of the real world even as he came to change the world.
We often speak of the Incarnation as God becoming flesh (John 1:14), but Poirier points us to the fact that the Incarnation also includes God living in the flesh, praying in the flesh, preaching in the flesh, serving in the flesh, and being the embodiment of love in the flesh by dying on the Cross in the flesh and raising from the dead in the flesh! How interesting it is that I have much more difficulty conceptualizing the reality that Jesus Christ ascended to heaven in the flesh and is in the flesh reigning over all things right now as I type about him. Yet it is truer than any of my weak ideas.

Does this change the way I look at history? Can I see Christ's hand in each day as I walk the streets of Chicago, serve at The Line, hear about the politics and who is going to run for mayor, or read the news about a Christian's in Indonesia being attacked?

Does it change the way I study God's Word? Do I see all the stories from Creation in Genesis 1-2 to Consummation in Revelation 21-22 as what has truly happened and what will truly happen? Do I see them all pointing to Christ? As I read, do I slow down and allow the words on the page to penetrate every fiber of my being because they are both truth and history?

What about how I look at culture or think about my calling? Do I know that God empowers individuals and groups to be culture shapers and makers? In every aspect of this world, do I try to find how God has somehow influenced it by His common grace (Ps. 19:1)? A popular paraphrase of Calvin's teaching is "all truth is God's truth," but do I take it a step further and say "all truth is the living God's truth"? With regard to calling, do I trust that Christ in the flesh is looking over me, loving me, caring for me each day? Do I surrender my day and my future to Christ who knows better than I do about what's really best for me?

What about you? Does Christ's Incarnation challenge the way you think and live?

In short, the reality of Christ in the flesh crushes all our petty philosophies. In the very least this should bring sheer power, intensity and inspiration to all that we say and do.

Oh how I pray that the Spirit of God will convict both my mind and my heart that I may know Christ is more than just some idea or concept or worldview, but is now and forever God in the flesh.

By His Grace.


  1. good stuff. thanks for an overview of the book I have yet to start...keep up the good work. M. B.

  2. Anonymous11:25 AM

    I like the first point you made about the Sacred Scriptures. Too many times, people will take a verse out of context or twist it to fit what they want to believe. What I don't understand then, is why people think they can go start their own churches. Based on what? Their understanding of what scripture means? Of course most will have the same core beliefs (Jesus died for our sins, etc.) but some of the other teachings can become twisted. Like how you can have salvation.

    I saw an ad for a new church in my community and it talked about joining their church to "build relationships, without the trappings of religion." It is scary when people feel they have the authority to start a church. Who gave them that authority? And are they THE authority? Going off a little on a tangent...but I think it goes back to that particular person's take on scripture.

  3. Michael, thanks for the comment. Which book haven't you started yet?

  4. To whomever posted as anonymous,

    I appreciate the comment. I am interested to hear your perspective on church planting. Is there a place for it? If so, how would one go about doing it? I'd love to hear back from you.