July 06, 2012

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Hope That Is Better Than Heaven Modern-day Christians can't seem to shake the deeply held belief that God is going to trash the planet air-lift believers out of here. We have spent so many decades talking and working to "get people saved" and on their way to heaven that we haven't bothered to ask if Christians have always talked this way. The sermons in the New Testament itself-- from Jesus to Peter to Paul-- don't focus on "personal salvation" in a private way, and certainly not with the goal of "going to heaven." It's not that heaven isn't real; it's that heaven isn't the end, and therefore not the point. But when you make heaven the "end goal" (the telos) things get squirrly. Our obsession with heaven has resulted in an anemic vision of hope, an inadequate compass for the moral life here and now, and no paradigm for any sort of social engagement in our world. The popular Christian notion of "hope" can be described as some combination of the following three paradigms: 1. EVACUATION: God is going to judge this world with flames but those who believe in Him will be taken out of this world one day and go to heaven. God, in this view, is an imaginary Fireman who will rescue us from the flames of Hell, which are even now consuming this world. (I love firefighters now more than ever and they certainly resemble a Christ-like figure...but that is not the whole picture of what God is like.) Evacuation Eschatology is shaped by rapture theology, the belief that Jesus will take faithful and true Christians to heaven before a great suffering and tribulation comes to Earth. This view does little to encourage engagement with this world. 2. COMPENSATION: God in this view, is either an imaginary Santa Claus who "knows when...
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Christ's Sharing in Our Life and Death Two notes: First, you may rightly subtitle this post, "Reflections on the Orthodox View of Atonement as explained by Bishop Kallistos Ware in 'The Orthodox Way', and as I understand it in my Evangelical Way." (Clunky, I know...which is why I didn't subtitle this blog at all!) Secondly...this is an excerpt from a reflection paper I wrote for a class at Fuller Theological Seminary, so if it reads a little dry, you know why! (My books are slightly better.) I was particularly drawn to Ware’s discussion of themes related to atonement, which occurs largely in his chapter on “God as Man.” Prior to that chapter, Ware had described the Fall not as “total depravity” but as something which resulted in the divine image in man becoming “obscured but not obliterated” (pg. 61). Ware goes on to say that “original sin” in Orthodoxy is not interpreted in “juridical or quasi-biological terms” as much as it is in communal terms. Drawing on the Trinity as our understanding of “oneness”, Ware describes a “solidarity” in humanity (pg. 62). Human beings, “made in the image of the Trinitarian god, are interdependent and coinherent”—and therefore joined to each other so that when “one sins, all have sinned” (pg. 62). Atonement, then, is described in similar language. Salvation is Christ’s sharing in our life and death. Ware’s chapter on Christ—“God as Man”—begins with a brief tour of the seven councils. He sums it up what the Councils have to say about Christ as God and Man with two basic principles: First, “only God can save us” and, secondly, “salvation must reach the point of human need” (pg. 73). Then, placing the atonement squarely in the context of the Incarnation, Ware writes, “Christ shares to the full in what we are, and so he makes it possible...

Glenn Packiam

Lead Pastor, new life DOWNTOWN, New Life Church, Colorado Springs, CO. Author and songwriter.

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