October 21, 2017

Sundays with Michael Spencer: Dec. 28, 2014

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Note from CM: 2015 will mark five years since the death of Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk. Throughout the year, we will feature special remembrances to honor his memory and contributions. One of the ways we will do that is to give Michael his say every Sunday. We begin today, with a post that was originally published in December 2006 as Christ, the Meeting Place.

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He became the reconciling place where opposites met. He was the meeting place of God and man. Man the aspiring and God the inspiring meet in Him. Heaven and earth came together and are forever reconciled. The material and the spiritual after their long divorce have in Him found their reconciliation. The natural and the supernatural blend into one in His life- you cannot tell where one ends and the other begins. The passive and the militant are so one in Him that He is militantly passive and passively militant. The gentle qualities of womanhood and the sterner qualities of manhood so mingle that both men and women see in Him their ideal- and the revelation of the Fatherhood and the Motherhood of God. The activism of the West and the meditative passivism of the East come together in Him and are forever reconciled. The new individual, born from above, and the new society- the Kingdom of God on earth- are both offered to us in Him.

•  E. Stanley Jones, “The Sign is a Baby.”

Jesus often calls his followers to make choices- decisive choices. There are two ways, and only one can be chosen. In the present, we must choose to be citizens of the Kingdom of heaven or citizens in the city of Man. Today, the choice may be between Christ and family, or even between Christ and my right hand or my right eye.

At the same time, as Jones says so well, Jesus ultimately brings together so much of what sin has separated. Heaven comes to earth and the Kingdoms of this world become the Kingdoms of our God, and of his Messiah. He reconciles us to what we may have sacrificed for him. Remember these words?

Mark 10:28. Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Jones tells us that it is in Jesus, this reconciliation is real and exceeds our imaginations. In Romans 8, Paul sees the reconciliation of all things that began in Christ.

Romans 8:18. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 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.

master-castello-nativity-nativity-NG3648-fmIt is Jesus, a human baby who is the sign of the presence of this bringing together of all things now. In Jesus, the opposites that seemed irreconcilable come together before our very eyes.

I think it important to note that much of what Jones points out as being reconciled in Jesus is the stuff of conflicts and condemnation within the evangelical community, and especially in the blogosphere. Can we use mother imagery of God? Is the Christian life active or contemplative? Should we renounce all material concerns and enjoyments in order to be spiritual? (I often wonder if John Piper believes that Jesus’ frequent attendance at parties really is part of the Gospel portraits?) Are “naturalists” or “supernaturalists” the superior species of Christian?

These and many other debates demonstrate that we are not so much students of Jesus as we are team competitors seeking to make Jesus into the mascot for our particular set of opinions.

Christian Humanism declares that, in Jesus, the light of God has shone on the human sphere and illumined everything. While God and his creation are separate, we no longer believe that anything exists apart from its God conceived shape, essence and purpose. All things existed in the mind of God before they existed in reality, and in that moment, opposites are reconciled. We believe that the “Godness” and the “this world-ness” of all things are visible in the incarnation of Jesus.

As we contemplate the incarnation visible at Christmas, the “sign” of God’s salvation of all things in his fallen universe, we should consider all that is brought together in Jesus. We should remember that much of what we cast aside as irreconcilable will ultimate come together in the Kingdom of God. Jesus is not only God with us, but he is the revelation of a vision of reality that embraces all things in the love God expresses for his incarnated Son, Jesus Christ.

The character of an emerging, post-evangelical Christianity should be strongly influenced by a God who looks less like us, but in whom we discover the true face of all people, and the true purpose of all things. Life’s opposites are not given to us only to make choices — which is always necessary — but to magnify God in Christ in a thousand ways we never thought possible.

Comments

  1. Paul taught “Christ is us” which means a type of ongoing incarnation where the living Word lives and becomes flesh through our lives. Participatory church brings this to light as people minister to one another. http://stevesimms.wordpress.com/2014/12/26/u-can-c-christ-born-living-in-human-beings-as-people-share-his-story-in-their-story/

  2. Michael’s last sentence is a keeper;

    “Life’s opposites are not given to us only to make choices — which is always necessary — but to magnify God in Christ in a thousand ways we never thought possible.”

    • Only recently – maybe it’s because I’m approaching mid-50 – have I really begun dwelling on the fact that on any particular Sunday, our church has people who are celebrating births or new jobs sitting beside people who have cancer, lost jobs or have lost loved ones. And I think it’s as Michael says…it’s in that seemingly schizophrenia (my word) that somehow God in Christ can be magnified.

  3. Learning that, theologically, God is a God of both/and far more than He is either/or (free will, contemplation-action, ad inf.) was one of the hardest lessons I had to learn. The Enlightenment emphasis on either/or and it’s hatred of mystery is a hard habit to break.

    • I get what you’re saying. And agree part of the way.

      But remember that, at least partially, the Enlightenment “hatred” of mystery arose because: 1) ignorance has so often dressed itself up in the garb of Mystery, which was buttressed by an appeal to Miracle and exploited by an appeal to Authority and 2) pestilence, natural disaster, the unjust actions of human beings, and a host of other afflictions and maladies all issuing in suffering and death, were justified and accepted as “right” on the grounds that they were rooted in the inscrutable “mystery” of God’s judgment.

      The Enlightenment revealed how superstition was exploited for so long in the project of making most human beings serve the interests of a few, who frequently used religion and superstition to consolidate their power. We speak of the failures of the Enlightenment on the other side of a deep and unbridgeable chasm that it has established between modernity and all preceding ages, and we tend to express little cognizance how harsh life was like on the other side of that fault line when we speak of that time nostalgically. We also tend to lack appreciation for the tremendous advantages the Enlightenment has bequeathed to us, in technology and social liberation, advantages which many of our pre-Enlightenment forbears would have embraced with gratitude, if they could have.

      It’s a mistake to think of the Enlightenment in terms of “either/or,” though an easy habit to fall into. It would do well to remember that, if the Enlightenment had great antipathy toward mystery, much of that antipathy was the result of all the evil justified in the name of mystery. Among the better motives of those who led the Enlightenment is that they wanted to dispel ignorance, because they were aware how much evil was facilitated by, and occurred in, the darkness of ignorance, and how often intentionally cultivated ignorance was called mystery.

      • Robert, very much agreed. Besides all that, the period we call the Enlightenment saw…

        – the cessation of religious wars in Europe

        – the advocacy and, later, implementation of public education

        – the development of political systems like the democratic republic

        – intellectual inquiry could be openly pursued without fear of the various Inquisitions and/or other authorities persecuting and killing those who expressed ideas, even questions, that would have brought severe retribution in the very recent past.

        – growing advocacy of education for women

        – the beginnings of free press/free speech

        and much, much more. I think “either/or” is characteristic of history *prior* to the Enlightement.

        • The Enlightenment also saw…

          – the reduction of nature to a mere collection of isolated mechanistic bio-devices

          – the denial of any possibility of supernatural action/activity

          – the foundations of the wars of ideology which dwarf the casualties of the wars of religion

          – the elevation of reason and logic to a point where any other viewpoint was ridiculed

          The Enlightenment doesn’t get off that easily in my book. 😉

          • You kind of lost me on “wars of ideology” and casualty figures.

            As for science and the Enlightenment, a lot of us wouldn’t be commenting here were it not for the freedom of inquiry and acceptance of science that became increasingly accepted from the mid-17th c. onward. Medicine, geology and seismology (see links to info. on the Lisbon earthquake and tsunsmi just below), artificial lighting, synthetic fibers, synthetic pigments and dyes, calculators and computers, the development of systems for cataloguing virtually everything (from animals and plants to the contents of libraries), biology as we know it now (ditto adtronomy, chemistry, physics and who knows what all else) – all products of the intellectual and creativd fermeng of that time period.

            So much of what we take for grantef in the way of material necessities had its beginnings then. Are you willing to live without artificial lighting, central heating, refrigeration and more? I thought not…

          • I forgot to finish the sentence linking advances in medicine and related sciences to those of us who wouldn’t be commenting. It’s very simple: many of us would not have survived long enough to be here responding to your list of Enlightenment wrongs. But we would have neither modern computers of public efucation, or standardized spelling, or [add whatever you like] were it not for the many advances in all fields of intellectual enquiry during that time.

            The thought of living in a 21st c. version of the Mass. Bay Colony gives me the shivers, but it’s more than likely that we *would* be in such straits were it not for Enlightenment-era innovations in government, policy and ethics.

          • I don’t think that there was or is a total denial of supetnatural activity, but people rightly stopped believing that natural disasters were God’s punishment for … well, what, exactly?

            To be able to view a comet or meteor shower or lunar eclipse with a sense of awe and wonder rather than fear is a marvelous thing that gives us the opportunity to appreciate God’s creation. This was simply not possible prior to the Enlightenment, in Europe, at least, and likely not in any culture that had not developed its own system of astronomy. Besides, the Enlightenment put paid to astrology as a “science” – prior to that, astronomy was given credence by the most devout as well as those who were skeptical about God’s existence.

            The history of scientific discovery is realky fascinating, and might clarify some of your thinking re. what became possible as a direvt result of thd social and cultural changes of that era.

            I don’t want you to think that I’m some kind of evangelist for all of yhe changes of that era, but your balance sheet is kinda lopsided and i think it’s worth taking another look at the timd period you are condemning.

      • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

        To which I would add that Christianity was birthed, Scripture was penned, and creeds were agreed upon all in an intellectual and philosophical climate that was decidedly premodern. So it makes perfect sense that the Christian faith is not easily understood through Enlightenment philosophy. Nevertheless, the Enlightenment was one of the best advances humans have made in the area of both cultural advancement and ethics in all of recorded history.

      • For superstition vs. other ways of thinking about things, there’s the Lisbon earthquake/tsunami of 1755. Voltaire even put it into Candide.

        • The Lisbon earthquake is a classic, and perfect, example of how superstitiously natural events were viewed before the Enlightenment, and how the world could have done with bit less mystery, or a bit less mystery in the wrong places, back then.

          • Of course, the Lisbon earthquake took place in the midst of, or even at the end of, the Enlightenment. But the widespread reaction to it embodied pre-Enlightenment values and understandings to such a degree that Enlightenment figures, like Voltaire, could point to it as an example of everything that was wrong with the irrational and superstitious ways of thinking that the Enlightenment sought to displace.

    • Eeyore, you pretty much sum up the essence of the postmodern worldview from a God-including viewpoint. People as intelligent as D.A. Carson just never did understand this and likely never will. I think that may be true in a general way for most people over 50. Like you say, it’s a hard habit to break, In my view, this truly is a new age that is upon us.

      • “In my view, this truly is a new age that is upon us.”

        Funny, I remember being a child, and then a teenager, and hearing the same thing said in the late 1960s (Age of Aquarius) and early 70s (Era of Human Potential). Or for that matter, when the Berlin Wall came down in, what, 1989 (A New Era of World Peace, was the breathlessly repeated mantra). For the most part, it has been “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss…”

        • Robert, I believe that Jesus entered the world as one age was ending and another beginning. The people alive at that time were expecting something hugely significant but it didn’t happen for them at one point in time or event they could point their finger at. It was more a gradual change, more like the change of seasons rather than the change of the new year at midnight. I think that gradual change is what we are experiencing now, and that the events you mention are only precursors or small indications. I would expect an eventual change as big as happened to the world before and after Jesus.

          In my view, the rise of modernism and the so called Enlightenment was highly significant but not on the order of a change of age. Modernism was not a passing fancy such as those you mention, it has lasted strongly for 500 years, and in the view of many is here to stay. The change from either/or “objective” thinking to both/and “subjective” is much bigger than it seems in my opinion, but modernism appears to retain its hold for now. My personal belief is that the change of age will involve what the church likes to call the Second Coming, but as to what form that will take I’m taking a wait-and-see position. I do think the least likely form will be Jesus floating down out of the sky, but who knows.

          • I don’t see “both/and” as being subjective, so much as it is allowing for the perspectives of many other people whom we might not normally allow into our ideas and discussions.

            Just my .02…

          • I have my own pet theories about what the Parousia will be like, but they’re only my speculations, and half-cocked at that, so I see no reason to foist them on others.

            What I have some trepidation about is how easy it is to take refuge in the idea of mystery as another form of the god-of-the-gaps, who can only exist on the fringes of what is inexplicable, and for only so long it remains inexplicable. Every time something heretofore “mysterious” is explained in a rational and disenchanting way, this god-of-the-gaps is pushed further and further back, into a kind of preserved area that grows ever smaller, not unlike the natural preserve of an endangered species.

            I think Bonhoeffer was right to make us suspicious of this apologetic procedure, and to insist that the God and Father of Jesus Christ is to be found right in the center of everyday life, as much in its strengths as its weaknesses, and not only or primarily on the fringes or boundaries. If God allows himself to be pushed out of the world and onto the cross of Jesus Christ, as Bonhoeffer also said, I think it’s because it is from that cross, and nowhere else, that he delivers himself into the everyday affairs of ordinary men and women, incognito as it were, in the most ordinary of guises. And I think that something like this is exactly what Spencer is getting at in his post.

          • In addition, I think it was the Enlightenment that delivered us from the Either/Or thinking that dominated in previous ages, Either/Or thinking that wrapped itself in obfuscation and called it “Mystery.”

  4. Nevermind the content of this particular article, “Sundays with Michael Spencer” is a great idea!

  5. Here’s to preserving the memory of a man who was gifted to write with this kind of clarity:

    “The character of an emerging, post-evangelical Christianity should be strongly influenced by a God who looks less like us, but in whom we discover the true face of all people, and the true purpose of all things.”
    (Michael Spencer)

  6. “Christian Humanism declares that, in Jesus, the light of God has shone on the human sphere and illumined everything. While God and his creation are separate, we no longer believe that anything exists apart from its God conceived shape, essence and purpose. All things existed in the mind of God before they existed in reality, and in that moment, opposites are reconciled. We believe that the “Godness” and the “this world-ness” of all things are visible in the incarnation of Jesus.”

    If the language was a little more academic and technical, I could easily believe that it came from the pen of Karl Barth in his latter years.

    • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

      Yes, id does sound that way, doesn’t it? Whatever else Michael might have been, he was certainly a gifted thinker with a passion for Jesus.

    • Even though a Southern Baptist living in the hollers of Kentucky, Michael was not your typical Evangelical. If I recall correctly, he was an admirer of Barth and many others that are looked upon askance by many Evangelicals. He introduced me to many theologians of varying stripes I most likely would never have read left to my own devices and circle of influence. And you’re right–he was a great writer.

  7. Michael had a way of communicating that we do not see here today.