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It’s Groundhog Day…Again

The alarm clock beeps incessantly. Morning again. Reaching over, he fumbles with it a little before finding the snooze button. A few more minutes won’t hurt. A few more minutes to rest.

But, he can’t sleep. His mind already swirls with thoughts of the day ahead. So much to do. Little details, big projects, meetings. It’s going to be a busy day.

And, when it’s done, what does he have to look forward to? Doing it all over again. Tomorrow morning, it will be the same: hit the snooze button a few times, get out of bed, and face the same job, the same tasks, the same routine. He feels like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, endlessly living the same day over and over again,trying desperately to hide from the pointlessness of it all.

But hey, at least it’s a paycheck. He’s got bills to pay and groceries to buy. After all, if he didn’t have this job, his family wouldn’t be able to enjoy the good things in life either. Living for the weekends, as they say.

So, he rolls out of bed, stumbles into the bathroom, and starts his own personal Groundhog Day all over again.

And along the way, he messes up the Gospel.

It’s pretty easy to understand what the Gospel has to do with Sunday. But what about the rest of the week? If the Gospel doesn’t have anything to say about this part of your life, then it leaves most of your life untouched.

And, that’s often the impression that we give when we talk about the Gospel. If the good news is primarily that I can have my sins forgiven so I can spend eternity with God, then my job has relatively little to do with the Gospel. For most of us, work is just a necessary evil. It lets us earn money and maybe provide the occasional opportunity to share the Gospel. And even those of us who actually enjoy our jobs have a hard time seeing how it relates to the Gospel. So, work becomes a Gospel-free zone. The Gospel is for Sundays. The rest of the week is about something else entirely.

That’s not how it’s supposed to be.

Remember how the story beings. Imagine Adam standing in the garden listening to God explain what he’s supposed to do. He’s standing in stunned silence trying to process what he’s just heard. Finally, after several slow seconds, he stammers, “You want me to take responsibility for the whole thing? Animals, plants, mountains, streams, oceans, everything? I’m supposed to watch over it all so that you can manifest your glory everywhere? Seriously? Do you see what the monkeys are doing over there? What made them think it would be a good idea to pick that stuff up and throw it at each other? Oh great, now the dogs are eating it. And you want me to be in charge of all this? Do I at least get vacations?”

God created us for work. He set us in creation and gave us work to do as one of the ways in which he would manifest his glory through us. And, if we fast-forward to the end of the story, we’ll see the same thing. The eternity that God has in store for us is not one of unending boredom, sitting on fluffy clouds playing our harps all day. Instead, it will be an eternity of work. Not the endless drudgery that work often is now. But, the joyful realization of our purpose: to serve in creation as God’s image bearers in the world.

So, what does all this have to do with today? How does this help us understand how our work relates to the Gospel? Because God has summoned us back into his kingdom so that we can again be what God always intended us to be, living in the world as citizens of the kingdom, image bearers.

The alarm beeps incessantly. It can’t possibly be morning again, can it? She rolls over and hits snooze. She knows he should get up. Busy day ahead. Of course, every day is busy. Pretty much the same. She looks forward to the weekend and getting some time with her family. It’s not that she hates her job, though she definitely doesn’t love it either. But she does enjoy her weekends.

She lays there for a while struggling with the apparently meaninglessness of it all. She doesn’t like working for just a paycheck. She wishes it could be more.

And then she remembers. Every day is an opportunity to live out her purpose in the world, to image God everywhere, helping people see his glory and through her. That doesn’t make all of the frustration go away. She’s still going to keep her eye out for a different job, one that fits her gifts and interests a little better. But, in the meantime, she’d better get up. She has work to do today.

[You can read the rest of the posts in this series on the Gospel book page.]

God Created the World for Himself

[This is a guest post by Ron Kimmel. Ron is a new Th.M. student at Western Seminary and a pastor at Bethany Church in Canby, OR. Ron is participating in this summer’sTh.M. seminar on Jonathan Edwards.]

Why did God create? That’s the question Jonathan Edwards wrestles with in The End for which God Created the World. In the process, he makes an important distinction between the proximate means of creation and the Ultimate End of creation. It’s a distinction that drives him toward an interesting conclusion.

Edwards deals quite extensively with the end for God is presumed (based upon human reasoning) to have created, and surprisingly JE does not cast these ends (consequences of creation) in a negative light. Instead, he looks on them as ‘means’ that God would use to communicate his Ultimate End. And, although he appreciates the value of the means, he warns strongly against equating them with the End itself.

It may be reasonable to argue that God created in order that He might show His love to creation, display His power, establish fellowship, or that it was a natural outflow of is character and nature. JE argues that it is quite a bewildered notion that God should have ever created for the purpose of receiving anything from His creation. He also argues that God did not create because it is merely in His nature and character to do so, even though that nature and character does exist within God.

JE argues that God is His own Ultimate End in creation. He delights in His own perfections and His delight can only be found in Himself. God makes His own perfections His end. In other words, God created out of the love for His own perfection, and creation is a witness to His own greatness. He created so that He might see His own virtues on display in what He had made. It begins and ends with Him. All other ‘means’ are merely consequences of creating.

Though God has created for Himself and He is His own Ultimate End, the concept of God being benevolent toward His creation cannot be a completely separate matter. JE argues that God’s goodness toward His creation is a way of gratifying His own desire and ‘general inclination.’ Set in this mode, God’s acts toward His creation (means) are directly related to God bringing Himself glory. Therefore, these are not seen as separate acts, but rather as coinciding and implied one within the other.

JE argues that this is at least partly because God does not see in past, present and future tenses, but rather He views all at once. Thus, JE links John 17:21 & 23 with the idea that’ redeemed’ are being brought home to God and are being swallowed up in Him so that there is no differentiation between the redeemed and God. This is not to suggest that the redeemed become God but that they are so united with Him that they become one. Thus, God’s benevolent acts toward creation are always linked to his acting on behalf of his own glory.

This has significant implications for life and ministry, particularly in JE’s view of communion. The concept of the redeemed being one with God would lead to all sorts of personal internal struggle toward those who participated in communion but could not give a testimony as to the nature of the conversion. If the redeemed really are expressions of God’s most holy perfections then pretending to reflect those perfections without having actualized the light would certainly lead to one’s condemnation and cast a dark shadow over the church.

Nonetheless, I think JE struggled mightily to find an appropriate balance between these two elements in this dissertation. He wrestled between God’s gracious treatment of creation and His eternal purpose of creation. The tension seems to have become a ‘both and’ type of agreement, but he places the horse before the cart in that God created for His own delight and all else is consequence.

One disturbing thing almost from the outset of reading JE’s work was that of the wrath of God. Where is it? Who’s under it? He talks little about this here and he limits the “consequences” largely to good things that God does toward man. Wrath is spoken of sparingly. While leaving the reader somewhat in want, he points to God being glorified in judging the wicked: glorified, in that He judges the wicked for the sake of the redeemed, creating in the redeemed a greater dependence upon Him and trust in His mercies that would lead to strengthening the union between God and His chosen. His point being that your neighbor is damned so you will glorify God. Though one may feel misery over the damned, it is not for misery itself that one is to delight because misery is a consequence of creation that should find its final realization in giving glory to God. Why? Because man is not to be concerned with his own feelings or emotions and recognize that God is just.

While the premise is excellent in that God’s wrath leads to His glorification, the struggle comes in accepting that God’s wrath is a consequence of creation. Wrath has its beginning and ending with God. Meaning, wrath has always existed in God. It was not just done for the sake of the redeemed but has always existed in God’s virtues and characteristic perfections.

As seems to be the case with JE’s works, this is a humbling and challenging study by a great mind and philosopher of his day. To witness his personal struggles and journey toward putting into words what he believed to the most accurate descriptions of why God would bother with man leaves one questioning the pettiness of his own daily considerations. To have such a great challenge in this day and age of materialism and selfishness is to be found worth its weight in gold if one will pause long enough from his blog post to be mentored by those who have gone before. Thank you JE for pushing your readers on toward glorifying Him.

[Scientia et Sapientia is sponsored by the Master of Theology (Th.M.) program at Western Seminary. It’s an open forum, so please feel free to join the discussion.]

Review: The Passionate Intellect by Alister McGrath

Many thanks to IVP for sending me a review copy of Alister McGrath’s The Passionate Intellect: Christian Faith and Discipleship of the Mind (IVP, 2010).

★★★☆☆

Alister McGrath has written an interesting little book, arguing for the central place of theology in the Christian life and calling for a renewed appreciation for the “life of the mind” in churches today. The book comprises eleven chapters based on previously unpublished lectures presented in 2007-2009.

Summary

McGrath divides the book into two sections. In the first, he sets out to convince his readers that theology really is vital for a healthy Christian life and spirituality. And, this was by far my favorite of the two sections. As he says at the beginning of the book,

Christian theology is one of the most intellectually stimulating and exciting subjects it is possible to study, rich in resources for the life of faith and the ministry of the church. It has the capacity to excite, inspire and illuminate the human intellect, giving it a new passion and focus. (7)

And, he follows from there with six essays that together seek to lay out “the intellectual capaciousness of the Christian faith and its ability to bring about a new and deeply satisfying vision of reality” (12). Recognizing that theology has a bad reputation in large segments of the church, the first two essays provide a brief apologetic for the necessity of good theology. The third essay offers an autobiographical account of McGrath’s own conversion and the important role that theology played in helping him understand the vacuity of atheism and the power of the Christian vision of reality. The next essay offers an interesting reflection on George Herbert’s “Elixir” to present the transformative power of theology. McGrath then presents an essay on the explanatory power that theology has for understanding the world around us. And, following naturally from this, the final essay in this section addresses apologetics and the necessity for good theology for articulating the Christian vision to the world.

In the second half of the book, McGrath’s shifts his attention to exploring “how inhabiting the Christian ‘interpretive community’ provides a platform for cultural engagement” (13). McGrath has a long-standing in natural theology and apologetics, and that comes across very clearly in this section. He begins this section by arguing that Christianity and science are supplementary rather than contradictory. I thought the following essay, “Religious and Scientific Faith,” was the most interesting in this section. Using Darwin’s theory of evolution, McGrath argues that both theology and science make arguments based on “inference to the best explanation,” and that, consequently, both are rational and faith-based to some extent. The next essay offers a very brief discussion of Augustine’s view of creation, demonstrating that Christian theologians have long been aware of the need to understand and engage the best science of the day even as we seek to interpret the Bible faithfully. And, McGrath finishes the book with two essays on the New Atheists, arguing against the idea that religion necessarily poisons everything it touches and pointing out the intellectual weaknesses of the atheist argument.

Strengths

Probably the book’s greatest strength is its readability. McGrath writes with a clear, concise style that makes the book more accessible than many others. A few of the essays wander into territory that will be less familiar to the average churchgoer (in America at least), particularly the essay on Herbert’s “Elixir.” Overall, though, the book is very readable and engaging.

I thought the first half of this book was particularly interesting. McGrath did a very nice job laying out the importance of theology across a broad range of the Christian life: love of God, worship, apologetics, discipleship, mission, and so on. The two chapters on “Mere Theology” in particular could be used alone to give someone a brief look at what theology is and why it’s important. And McGrath’s personal testimony in the fourth essay is really a testimonial for the argument of the whole book – the Christian vision of reality has explanatory power that surpasses any other worldview and, when embraced, has transformative power to reshape everything about you.

The second half of the book was less compelling for me. However, if you’re looking for a few, brief essays on the apologetic issues he addresses (faith and science, evolution, and atheism), then you might find it more interesting.

Weaknesses

The most notable weakness was the essay format. Although McGrath has done a nice job organizing the essays around a common theme, the book still feels a bit disjointed and uneven in places. Certain essays are necessarily stronger than others, and the connections between them are occasionally somewhat weak.

As I mentioned above, I also found the second half of the book less compelling. I thought the book would have been strengthened immensely if McGrath had devoted the second half to fleshing out a range of areas in the Christian life that benefit from a deeper appreciation of theology. Rather than restricting himself to a largely intellectual task like apologetics, it would have been great to see whole essays on worship, fellowship, mission, work, and so on. These are the areas in which the average person really needs to see the value of theology.

So, finally, I think the greatest weakness is that I’m not sure that McGrath’s book is going to convince his target audience that theology is really all that important. It will probably serve best those who are already committed to a “life of the mind,” but need to be convinced of the importance of theology. That is really McGrath’s story (i.e. the intellectual who is surprised by theology). But, at least in America, that does not describe the majority of Christians. They need a much more compelling vision of how theology touches everyday life.

Conclusion

The Passionate Intellect is an interesting book that is worth a quick read. The earlier chapters in particular are worth using as short classroom readings or with interested lay persons. And, if you know someone who is fairly intellectual and needs to catch a vision for the power of theology, this would be a great book to suggest.