December 17, 2017

Andrew Perriman: Who is being transformed into the image of Christ? Not me

Golden Hour in the Desert 2015

Note from CM: I read the following, fascinating post over at Andrew Perriman’s always interesting and thought-provoking blog, and asked his permission to have us discuss it here at Internet Monk. I think it’s a good one to consider during Lent.

• • •

Who is being transformed into the image of Christ? Not me
by Andrew Perriman

I’ve just got back from a missions conference at which the idea that believers in general and “missionaries” in particular are being—or should be—transformed into the “image of Christ” got a lot of airtime.

I can see what people are getting at. The assumption is that Jesus represents either an ideal way of being human or an ideal way of doing ministry. He’s Jesus, after all! Therefore, to grow towards spiritual maturity is to be conformed to his image.

It’s a central plank of evangelical piety. Tim Challies quotes Jerry Bridges: “Christlikeness is God’s goal for all who trust in Christ, and that should be our goal also.”

It is used with reference to character: Jesus sets the standard for holiness, love, justice, faithfulness, etc. But it was also suggested at the conference that Jesus perfectly embodies the APEST functions of Ephesians 4:11 in himself, therefore he constitutes the standard for the ministries of the church.

I think that the argument is misleading, however, as a matter of New Testament interpretation. In the New Testament, I suggest, being conformed to the image of Christ has a quite narrow and particular meaning—and a meaning that arguably excludes Christians today.

The problem with the traditional understanding is not that “Christlikeness” can’t be made to serve the purposes of practical or ethical formation. We can empty the terminology of its original meaning and fill it with whatever we like—and much of the time we get away with it.

The problem is that, like so many modern theological constructs, it bends the framing narrative badly out of shape. In the end, far from being conformed to the image of Christ, we instead conform Christ to our image. We tell the story in a way that makes him look like your average modern Christian, only better.

A limited role-model
Jesus was a single, first-century Jewish man. As the pattern for redeemed humanity, therefore, he has some immediate and obvious limitations.

Of course, we can highlight numerous aspects of his behaviour for emulation, but the writers of the Gospels do not go out of their way to present him in such terms. He is the Lord to be obeyed, not the ideal Jew to whom his follows must be conformed or assimilated. The same would appear to be true for Acts.

We know almost nothing about Jesus’ life outside the short period between his baptism by John and his death, and what we do know is bound up with a very specific, historically determined (“in the fulness of time”), prophetic-messianic ministry to Israel under Roman occupation. He operated within the frame of a mission that was inseparable from the story of Israel. Even such a well-known piece of teaching as the Beatitudes was historically circumscribed.

He did not found, build, or pastor a church in the sense that we understand the process today. He did not lead worship or run a children’s programme. He showed very little interest in people who were not Jews. He showed very little interest in what would happen historically after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.

He simply did not set a good example for Christian life and ministry today.

Far from being conformed to the image of Christ, we instead conform Christ to our image. We tell the story in a way that makes him look like your average modern Christian, only better.

He trained a small group of disciples to continue the task of proclaiming the coming kingdom of God to Israel and to do it in much the same way that he had done it. But there was no general programme of “saved” Jews being conformed to his image.

After the resurrection he sent the disciples into the whole oikoumenē—to the nations of the empire—to teach people to “observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 24:1428:19:20). There is no indication that this would entail generally being conformed to the image of Christ.

There was, however, the expectation that the apostles—those sent—would be opposed and would suffer as Jesus himself was opposed and suffered. He told James and John, for example: “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized…” (Mk. 10:39).

If anything, they were discouraged from becoming Christlike.

The disciples would be resisted by the rulers of Israel, they would be hated for the sake of Jesus’ name, they would be persecuted throughout Israel, and in this specific regard they would be like their master:

A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. (Matt. 10:24–25)

This gives us, in fact, the basic form of the imitation of Christ in the New Testament. The apostles were sent out in accordance with the will of their master. They would get the same abuse, and in that respect they would become Christ-like. If they faithfully endured though these trials, they would be seated by God alongside Christ to judge the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt. 19:28Lk. 22:30).

This is exactly what we find in the stand-out passages in Paul if we resist the pressure to make them fit the paradigm of a generic modern evangelical spirituality.

Conformed to the image of his Son
Paul says that some have been “predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Rom. 8:29).

He does not mean that some people have been elected for salvation while others haven’t. Nor does he mean that all believers will be conformed to the image of God’s Son.

He means that some believers have been predestined to suffer as Christ suffered in order to be glorified as he was glorified. We normally call them martyrs—or at least, victims of persecution.

All believers are heirs of God. They have received the Spirit of God. But only those who suffer with Christ (“provided we suffer with him”) will be heirs of Christ and will share in his resurrection glory (Rom. 8:16-17).

In this way, Jesus will not be the only “son”. He will be firstborn from the dead, but he will subsequently have many brothers, also born from the dead.

Transformed into the image of the Lord
Paul tells the church in Corinth that “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18). He is not talking about the Corinthians or believers in general. He is describing the experience of the Jewish apostles.

This whole section is Paul’s defence of the manner of the apostles’ ministry: they suffer, they are weak, but Christ is glorified. The old Mosaic covenant is fading; a new covenant between God and his people is being established through the suffering and vindication of Jesus and through the suffering and eventual vindication of his apostles (2 Cor. 3:4-18).

To be transformed into the image of Christ is to be led as a humiliated people in his triumphal procession; they are “afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed”; they carry in the body the dying of Jesus; death is at work in them; they commend themselves by their Christ-like sufferings, “in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger” (2 Cor. 2:144:8–910116:4-5).

This is the long, painful process that will conclude with them sharing in the glory of the resurrected Christ.

[This section has been revised and re-revised. It needs some clarification, but I am basically happy with the argument as it stands.]

Becoming like him in his death
When Paul says that he has rejected his standing as a righteous Jew, has made himself a pariah, in order to know Jesus Christ his Lord and be found in him, he means it in this same narrow sense: “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Phil. 3:10–11).

Christlikeness is manifested in suffering, death and resurrection.

Paul puts himself and the apostles forward as examples to follow, but this is at core an example of patient suffering. Some “walk as enemies of the cross of Christ”, but the apostles set an example of suffering with Christ in the hope that their afflicted bodies would be transformed “to be like his glorious body” at the parousia (Phil. 3:17-21).

See—it belongs to apocalyptic expectation. The apostles are living out in their own lives a narrative of Christlike suffering and vindication that will culminate in glory on the day when Jesus is revealed to the nations, the every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to the credit of the God of Israel.

We shall bear the image of the man from heaven
The argument about Christ as the “last Adam” in 1 Corinthians 15:42-49 is a continuation of this theme. Jesus was a descendant of the first Adam while alive on earth, but he is no longer to be regarded “according to the flesh” (cf. 2 Cor. 5:16). He has become the “last Adam” by his resurrection from the dead. So those who die “in Christ” will “also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Cor. 15:49).

In this argument conformity to the image of Christ must wait until resurrection, and I would argue that from the perspective of the New Testament this had reference specifically to what John will classify as a “first” resurrection of the martyr church in conjunction with the conversion of the nations of the Greek-Roman world (Rev. 20:4-6).

The Adam-christology looks forward to a new creation. We might try to draw some practical conclusions from this aspect of the “image of the man of heaven”, but Paul doesn’t. It’s the dying with Christ that preoccupies him.

Be careful what you wish for…
In the New Testament, to be transformed into or conformed to the image of Jesus is, first, to follow the same path of suffering and death and, secondly, to share in the glory of his resurrected life, to judge and rule with him throughout the coming ages. It’s not the language of metamorphosis or of personal transformation. The point is simply that their experience was like Christ’s experience, their journey like his.

But it’s not my experience, it’s not my journey. I can’t pretend to be a suffering apostle. I missed out on the first resurrection of the dead and will have to wait for the next one.

The conformed-to-the-image-of-Christ idea does not define or describe a general pattern or method of Christian formation. It belongs to the “apocalyptic” (for want of a better word) narrative and should be put back in it.

The New Testament has other ways of speaking about the formation of the people of God. It has to do fundamentally, I think, with obedience. For the Jews this had meant obedience to the Law and the prophets. For those who believed that God had raised his Son from the dead and made him Lord it meant a life of obedient righteousness through the power and instruction of the indwelling Spirit—the ways of God written on the hearts of God’s covenant people.

This is, frankly, a much broader notion than conformity to the image of Christ. It has the full scope of the Law and is, in principle, no less social, political and ecological in its application. It determines the corporate life of the people of God in the world, answerable to its risen Lord and—in the apocalyptic outlook of the New Testament—to those who, a long time ago, were conformed to his image.

Comments

  1. I’ve knocked around evangelicalism quite a bit over the past almost-30 years, but APEST is new on me. I guess they needed to repackage and resell the whole “spiritual gifts test” shtick for a new generation…?

  2. About Perriman’s interpretation of Romans 8 – this is the first time I’ve ever heard of it applying only to martyrs. What’s his justification for that?

    • YES! That was the first thing that jumped put to me as well. Also his selection and interpretation of the Corinthians passage seemed a bit tortured to me. It SOUNDS to me as if he is saying that not all believers will be resurrected, right?

      Further down the page he notes that his argument has been revised and re-revised. I think he needs to scrap the whole argument and try again. I GET that he is trying to point out the tendency of people to conform Christ to OUR image, but he is going about it in the wrong way, I believe.

    • Perriman works from a particular hermeneutic called the historical narrative hermeneutic. It’s somewhat like the “new Pauline perspective (NPP)” from folk like NT Wright and James Dunn, but it takes it a step further.

      You might check out this post of Perriman’s to get most detail: http://www.postost.net/2014/09/narrative-historical-method-outline.

  3. Paul Lee says:

    Everyone is predestined to die. I think the universality of Jesus dying for all is also important.

  4. I must say I don’t buy it. The great motifs of death, resurrection and transformation are fundamental to all Christian experience. How visible that is to the outside observer looking at the average Joe may be questionable but outward observation is a tricky thing. We are in a lllooonnnggg process that bears fruit over time. There are ten thousand deaths in this life. None are as dramatic as martyrdom but none can be avoided or dismissed. There is no getting around the ‘suffering’ of transformation. Many little Christs are being formed. Maybe I’m missing his point.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      +1, Chris!

      –> “We are in a lllooonnnggg process that bears fruit over time.”

      Friends at my church and I talk about this all the time. Everyone’s journey is different, and we all get to certain points of understanding and mystery at different times.

      –> ” There are ten thousand deaths in this life. None are as dramatic as martyrdom but none can be avoided or dismissed.”

      I know people who, every time they get up in the morning and look in the mirror, say, “All yours, Jesus.” I’m not quite that dogmatic, but the little deaths are frequent, and usually don’t look anything like martyrdom. As one of my pastor friends says, “If God made you to be a pen, just be a pen. Don’t try to sky-write.”

    • Chris –

      I don’t think Perriman would argue against the reality that the great motifs of death, resurrection and transformation are fundamental to all Christian experience. What he would argue is getting into the actual historical narrative of Scripture, which is not our narrative, and thinking through what it meant “on the ground” in their story.

      We are focused so much on making Scripture completely abstract – while occasionally applying a grammatical-historical hermeneutic – that we never allow Scripture to settle in its own earthy context. That’s what I see Perriman (and even new Pauline perspective folk to some extent) trying to do.

  5. APEST. Likewise new to me but thank God for the internet. Sorting thru the search results, tossing out the Ask an Exterminator as improbable, tossing out my unChristlike thought of APES**T, the website for The Forgotten Ways comes up the winner. Turns out APEST stands for apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. Good so far. Seems there’s a test you take to find out your aptitude. Sounds good to me, where’s the link to take the test? Oh, there it is. Oh, it says $10 on the button. What is this, a casino? Oh, there’s a $25 button. Okay, okay, I’m going to take a moment to regroup here, but in the meantime I’m going to look up the meaning of another acronym that just came to me in a vision, SCAM.

  6. Expecting to become transformed into the image of Christ, or setting the goal to attain Christlikeness, seems like idolatry of the self. It’s a works-based righteousness exalting the self, exalting the law—or, on the other hand, it lowers Christ to the level of mere example.

    Is sanctification really part of the Christian life? What is meant by that? How can we understand our call to follow Christ? Christ emptied himself and took the part of a servant; should we exalt ourselves by trying to become super-christians? I don’t think anybody would suggest that, but that’s what seems to be implied in our evangelical world.

    • “… idolatry of the self “. Except that the net result of being Christ like is in fact to be selfless. If it’s some game of creating a persona that we think looks like Christ and that we are all proud of I’m right there with you. The actual fact is that to become Christlike has nothing so much to do with a persona or outward appearance as it does with losing one’s self and expanding love into our little corner of the universe or world or whatever you want to say.

      • Rick Ro. says:

        “Look at me! I’m being Christ-like right now!!”

        Um…yeah…doesn’t quite work, does it…

      • Exactly. Christ is the goal, not our own salvation or sanctification.

        • I think he nailed with “In the end, far from being conformed to the image of Christ, we instead conform Christ to our image.” The Christ that I always sought to emulate was “me 2.0.” Regrettably, when I seek to become “me 2.0,” I become comfortable with all my failings and expect others to do so too. I, eventually, start to think that the others should also aspire to be “me 2.0.” The less they are like me, then the more abase they become (within that wrong way of thinking). I often find myself not liking people who are not like me. That’s a mistake.

  7. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    Thanks for writing this; I believe it is a courageous thing to say.

    I threw away the notion of “Christ-like-ness” some time ago. It is not informative, helpful, and it is not in Scripture. But I would never bring that up, many people are too much in love with the idea to consider its merits [or lack thereof].

  8. I did read the whole posting and am trying to grasp the complexities. It is erudite, if convoluted. It is true that the brain is convoluted, but I’m not so sure that the mind of Christ is as well. However this isn’t talking about taking on the mind of Christ but about being transformed into the image of Christ, a distinction that perhaps only an Evangelical could fully understand. I follow the general drift here but get lost in the details. I don’t need to take the APEST test to know that I am not an apostle, at least not so far, and it sounds to me as if only apostles get to take on the image of Christ, and that thru suffering and martyrdom. Not sure where that leaves John Thunderson, altho living to a ripe old age is suffering enough for me. More than enough, but I’ll take it as it comes.

    Apparently, from the title of the posting, Brother Andrew is passing by the opportunity to take on the image of Christ, tho perhaps he would say it has passed him by, and yet there is that APEST test which on the surface would indicate that the office of apostle is alive and well and available today. Is that what the $25 button is for? Who would pay $25 for the privilege of suffering? I’ll stand with Andrew on this one, not me. Life is hard enough as it is. Yes, I am open, I hope, to any change of assignment in my daily work for the Kingdom, but so far I don’t think it includes any of those acronymic letters I could wear on a badge, unless you want to add another one, a “G” for grunt. But even grunts are called to take on the mind of Messiah. So while others are studying for their APEST final exam, read my bumper sticker: Please Don’t Honk, I’m Peddling As Fast As I Can!

  9. I appreciate his concerns, but I think the transformation and christ-like-ness goes beyond what he is limiting it to. It is not an either/or situation. It is about us submitting to Christ, and the Spirit, so that He is reflected. It is about a reliance and focus on Him (abiding) and with that the growing life of love (fruit) that emerges. It is more corporate than individual, but does impact the individual.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      +1.

      –> “…so that He is reflected.”

      The group Paramore has a great song called “Part II” which ends with this awesome line:

      “Like the moon we borrow our light.
      I am nothing but a shadow in the night,
      So if you let me I will catch fire
      To let your glory and mercy shine.”

      We are essentially like the moon, unable to radiate our own light. Any light that we shine comes from the sun (son).

      One of my favorite songs, by the way!

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=45Xzgma4LMk

  10. Clay Crouch says:

    You lost me at Tim Challies.

  11. Pentecostalism has sides that are big on restoration of the 5 gifts of the Holy Spirit. And without paying directly for this test, you would pay if you were into Christian International or some other ministry to become a prophet or teacher or apostle or pastor or evangelist. Not a cessationist here, but still….these latter rain type things get abused. Evelyn Underhill would have liked it if all the baggage around mysticism would have been pruned back to its original Christian form of the art of prayer( and that of ” be still” in the sense of focus or abiding).
    Romans 8 is called “life through the Spirit”. I’m living proof that it’s hard for this to happen when you can’t seem to find a prayer life. That is why the “be still” type is so encouraged by us. And it’s hard not to accept that over time the beatitude blessings do come forth.

  12. Rick Ro. says:

    So, let’s take a couple of lines out of Paul’s epistles and create theologies around them, eh? “Imitate God!” “Become like Christ!” Those are healthy reminders within broader letters written for different purposes than for people to create doctrine around them.

    But okay, I’ll go along with it for now.

    As I consider the gospel accounts, Christ-like-ness to me encompasses two things:

    1) Compassion. 24/7, 365 day compassion for those who need compassion. Impossible for me, but what I TRY to do is just make sure I’m kind to people, and compassionate more often than not. And I fail miserably, for I’m a very selfish person, prone to wallowing in self-pity over stupid things.

    2) Challenging religiosity. 24/7, 365 day non-stop challenging of religious people who should know better but have gone astray AND are leading people astray. Since wandering my own spiritual desert and discovering this site and merging it with the gospel accounts, I always have my radar on for this sort of thing, ready to challenge unhealthy Christianity. I’m probably better at this than I am at compassion…LOL.

    An additional thought: As I consider the book of Hebrews and how the author lays out just who Christ is, Christ-like-ness is irrelevant. Jesus was the high priest, the tabernacle, the sacrifice, etc. etc. He fulfilled the Law and all that OT stuff so I would no longer have to play the game. I can rest easy in that.

    • He fulfilled the Law and all that OT stuff so I would no longer have to play the game. I can rest easy in that.

      And yet we still have the ANE bronze age tribal 10 commandments as the go to for all things evangelism and law…

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > Compassion

      I am with you; compassion and mercy are good. I do not see the need to give them a high-falutin’ label like “Christ-like-ness” – which we then have to argue about what that means. Isn’t “show compassion as Christ showed compassion” both sufficient and **clear**?

      Seriously, “do not be a self-involved jerk” is plenty of challenge for me.

      > Challenging religiosity

      Are we really ‘called’ to do that? Respectfully I read the religiosity-challenging of the Gospels to be a bit overblown; Christ comes across as at least somewhat of an accommodationist. Mostly he seems to have challenged not religious structures and customs but arrogance and price. Also now-is-not-then – religious people of the likes of Evangelicals and Fundamentalists can go to their corner and do their thing. They should be challenged when they try to push out of their corners and get bossy – but otherwise? shrug. I do not see a directive in Scripture to challenge religious constructs.

      • Rick Ro. says:

        –> “I do not see a directive in Scripture to challenge religious constructs.”

        Maybe not an outright directive, but go study the gospel accounts again and see how much time Jesus spends responding and reacting and calling out bad religion. My guess is it’s at least 50% of the gospel accounts. Also…read Matthew 23 (the “woe to you’s”). Christ-like-ness is NOT THOSE!!! (LOL).

        Maybe that’s more what my second “Christ-like-ness” actually is. Christ-like-ness – if the gospel accounts are to be believed – is NOT LOOKING RELIGIOUS.

  13. No doubt in my mind that evangelicals make Christ and God in their own image rather than actually trying to be Christlike. It’s a real problem. Another problem is this: some of the best people I know are those who are striving to follow and be like Christ and simultaneously aware of their own shortcomings and failures, and truly humble; and some of the worst and most obnoxious evangelicals (and indeed human beings) I know are those who think they have already achieved some level of Christlikeness, godliness, etc.

    These are real issues but I don’t think his argument is the way to counter them, and to me it has some huge holes and problems. First, to follow and obey someone in the first century was also to seek to emulate them, particularly religious teachers. Second, just because something fits in the apocalyptic motif doesn’t mean it’s not applicable to the life of faith in general, or that it’s the only thing applicable to the life of faith in general. A lot of stuff in the first couple of centuries was oriented toward the apocalyptic. Big deal. Third, that’s the first time I’ve heard the implication that not all believers will be resurrected — that’s just a head-scratcher. Fourth, he’s cherry-picking certain passages to be sure, then casting their slant as having the thrust of all scripture. Sorry, you just can’t do that. Inconvenient as it is, you gotta take all of scripture for what it is to get the big picture. Fifth: APEST? Really? Never heard that one and I’ve been in and around evangelicalism for decades. One thing the world doesn’t need is more acronyms. Please stop.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      Good comment, John.

      –> “…he’s cherry-picking certain passages to be sure, then casting their slant as having the thrust of all scripture.”

      Pretty much what most of Paul’s epistles and letters have been reduced to, picking out individual lines and building theologies around them.

      “Bad dog(ma), BAD dog(ma)!”

  14. Methodist-bred mainline background here. So, sanctification is a part of my ingrained theology, but from that perspective.

    At almost age 60, with a long history of bad church experiences both in the mainline and evangelical worlds, what I have learned:

    — The people who cause the most problems within church both clergy and lay, were not particularly striving to be “Christlike.” Either they were not trying, or assumed they had already arrived and were there to define what the term meant for others. Usually, what it meant was “getting with the program,” whatever the program was in that church’s case. It almost never meant learning about Jesus and taking the Gospel accounts about what he valued and commanded seriously.

    — In the end, for me, taking Jesus seriously has been the only thing that has kept me going in the faith. I’ve been out of an organized local congregation for four years, with little desire to give it another go. But Jesus still compels me. I can see that my priorities have actually been shaped by him throughout my life. I think that I have organically made “progress” in sanctification over the years. I didn’t worry about it, stress over it, or feel that I had to achieve something or be proud if I did. I would not want to live by a different set of standards at this point, and if I find out (or not!) when I die that I bet on the wrong horse, then so be it. It was a good way to live, nonetheless.

    I’m not so sure the problem is in whether or not we should be imitating Christ as much as it is in what the Church has variously made that out to be over the years—and the subsequent traps people have fallen into because of it.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      The Message’s paraphrase of Matthew 11:28-30 comes to mind as I read your comment:

      “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

      Favorite line in the Bible… “Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”

      • Ron Avra says:

        I think, I go with that.

      • Rick,
        Speaking of unforced rhythms, you might appreciate this guy. I’ve mentioned him a few times here on lmonk and I’m not sure anyone has ever taken me up on checking him out. He’s deceased now but his teachings from cassette tapes back in the 80s and 90s and then to the 2000s are online. You have to have some time to sit and listen but it is wildly compelling once you’re in. So if you’re interested.
        https://youtu.be/KUvt6DKB7_c
        If that link doesn’t work it’s Dr. Bruce Morgan: Gods patterns. It’s YouTube

        • Rick Ro. says:

          (Clicks on link, hoping I’m not being Rick Rolled)

          Link works. Listening now. Thanks for the suggestion.

          • I’m so happy you’re checking that out. If you’re still interested there’s a second half which is just a second video to click on when that one is done. When it actually was taped it’s the second half of the tape like turning it over.

          • petrushka1611 says:

            Funny thing, Rick Ro….when I see your name in these comment sections, my mind always adds two L’s to the end of it. 🙂

    • +1

      Your story is remarkably similar to mine in terms of experience with churches and where I’ve ended up.
      When I hear much gospelly, godly, christlikeness and insistence on getting with the program, I head the other way. Too often it means folks have cooked up something like faith but largely missed the main ingredient: love.

  15. Iain Lovejoy says:

    If all that was being said was that Jesus’ ministry is not necessarily a practical model for Church ministry today, that seems pretty obvious: circumstances are different, and he was not a church pastor.
    However, the main aim of the above seems to be another complicated way of trying to say that believing in Jesus, or having faith in him, or following him, or being Christian does not involve actually doing what he says, by finding clever ways in which what he expressly tells us to do only applies to someone else.
    Romans 8:14 states explicitly that all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. The interpretation above relies in reading “eiper” in verse 17 as “only if” we suffer when it actually means (at least according to the various on line dictionaries) “if perhaps” or “if indeed”.
    In 2 Corinthians 3:18 Paul says “we all” as opposed to the “we” he is using previously and, if that wasn’t enough, in verse 17 he has just referred “liberty” being “where the spirit of the Lord is” which can’t just mean in the apostles, but must mean in all believers.
    Then there are:
    1 John 2:6
    1 John 2:29
    1 Corinthians 11:1
    Ephesians 5:1-2
    John 15:12
    Which are even more difficult to finesse.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      I cringe when people point to individual lines of scripture, especially when they’re from NT letters and epistles. Too often theologies and doctrines that are slightly askew of the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ are made of them.

  16. As I was driving to work this morning, I reflected upon the fact that I am not being “conformed to the image of Christ”, or sanctified if you will. In fact, I might just be getting worse.

    Given that I’ve always heard we should be becoming “more Christ-like” (usually with the caveat that it’s a slow process, that we seem to take two steps forward and one step back and other rationalizations), I’m left with what seems to be three options:

    1) There is no God and Jesus is not His Son.

    2) There is a God but I am apparently not one of His elect but instead am “rocky soil” or soil choked with thorns–i.e., one of the tares, or

    3) That being conformed into Christ’s image is not what I’ve always thought it means.

    Since I persist in believing there is a God and Jesus is His Son, Option 1 is no option. Option 2 would leave me with no hope; therefore, I am hanging on to Option 3 and praying that the Lord will have mercy upon me, a sinner.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      Yep. Lord have mercy, or I’m screwed.

      • Christiane says:

        I’ve never heard it put quite that way, but yes, it makes sense. You have a way with words, and it is, after all, Lent.

    • Robert F says:

      Scott, I’m with you. If God ultimately rejects me because I can’t meet his standards, it can’t be helped. I’m not much good at spiritual athletics, so I’ll never be able to clear the bar, unless it’s set really really low (and maybe not even then) , and in this post Andrew asserts that it’s not. Maybe a few Grand Inquistors will make it, but I won’t. So I’ll go back to my corner and pray that Andrew got it wrong.

    • Confronting dilemmas like this is where a long, quiet meditation on the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector is especially helpful – at least, it is for me.

  17. Christiane says:

    I think my Church speaks of Christian formation as ‘being formed ACCORDING to the mind and heart of Christ’ which does rather make a different . . . . . . a works-in-progress forming over a lifetime with much ‘falling forward’ (hopefully forward) and holding out my hand to be grabbed so I don’t drown? sounds about right

    • Rick Ro. says:

      –> “…holding out my hand to be grabbed so I don’t drown? sounds about right”

      I like that! Yes!

    • Rick Ro. says:

      –> “…holding out my hand to be grabbed so I don’t drown? sounds about right”

      I like that! Yes!

  18. Honestly, I don’t think Evangelicalism will ever make sense out of the epistles, due to philosophical precedent which is probably too complex for this (or any) blog thread. I think the Orthodox do a fine job of explaining this, and Rome does a fine job as well. Evangelicalism, not so much. On the other hand, I’m not sure that it even matters, but that is another topic I suppose.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      –> “On the other hand, I’m not sure that it even matters…”

      Maybe. Except that a lot of bad religion (especially within Evangelicalism) is built upon the epistles. Hence, this website. 😉

    • This is why Perriman’s perspective is a good thing to bring to the table. It’s NOT the typical evangelical approach of let’s-make-everything-abstract-in-Scripture-so-it-applies-to-each-individual. It’s about allowing Scripture to be framed in its own “earthy” narrative. Of course, we need to think through what this means today. NT Wright says we need to go to Scripture (or the NT in his case) with 1st century eyes while asking 21st century questions. But we can’t do part B without doing part A, and part A of putting on the lens of Scripture means removing the obsession with making Scripture abstract.

      So I think Perriman, though an evangelical charismatic, does well to challenge typical perspectives.

  19. Dana Ames says:

    I used to read Perriman a lot in my wilderness days. I appreciate Perriman’s rationale for what he thinks “being Christ-like” means. This isn’t far from the Orthodox view. See also Fr Stephen’s latest post on the Cross and shame (not toxic shame that others pile on us, or that God supposedly does – he doesn’t! – but a different thing).

    I do think he’s beyond the pale with his understanding of the first resurrection. This bears no resemblance whatsoever to the Patristic consensus. The Eastern fathers didn’t base any dogma on the book of Revelation, because they understood that they didn’t understand its figurative language. It seems to me that, having lived through the time in history when Christianity “conquered the Roman empire”, the Cappadocians and others of the 4th century would have written about the first resurrection that way, if they had believed that were the case. I haven’t found any such related Patristic commentary regarding the book of Daniel, either.

    Thanks for the props, Dr F 🙂

    Dana

  20. This posting has bothered me all day and I’ve determined that it is because it seems to throw the baby out with the bathwater. If you had asked me this morning before I read it whether I was being transformed into the image of Christ, I would have said yes, but with a lot of qualifications. First off, I consider Jesus to be our best image of God, and I consider the goal to become Godlike, which is more direct than trying to become like an image. If Jesus reflected God in perfection, it seems to me that in following Jesus I should be striving to do the same, not striving to reflect Jesus.

    While the title of the posting speaks of transformation, the body of the posting speaks more of conformation, and I believe these are two different processes. I see transformation as an inner process of change and growth which happens to me as I allow and welcome it. I see conformation as an outward process involving behavior which depends on my determination and strength of will. I see transformation as my only hope of growing more Godlike over time. To speak of conformity, and it’s first cousin, obedience, gives me the willies and seems to me to drive a wedge between me and God.

    Reading the post over again, I find myself put off by the language and by the perspective, both of which seem to me to be hard core Evangelical, and which may just reflect my personal bias. As with most things Evangelical I am quite willing to allow others to follow their own path without argument if I am given the same freedom in return. However in this particular case I believe it needs saying that no matter how much distortion might be found in the various arguments brought up, the goal of Godlike transformation is in my view the basic intended point of human life on Planet Earth, however we may bend this to suit intellect or ego or religion or comfort zone.

    • Thanks for this Charles. Your explanation of the difference between conformation and transformation rings so many bells for me. It’s not a distinction I’ve ever heard expressed before and I have a feeling it could be really helpful to me – once I’ve processed the idea a bit! Lots for me to think about as I go out walking this morning. I’m grateful.

  21. Our Christian lives are not a moral project.

    The moral improvement (or progress) of our lives is not the goal of the Christian life. It is not even on the same page. We imagine that if we manage to tell fewer lies, or lust fewer times, or fast a little more carefully, and swallow our angry words more completely, we are somehow the better for it and have “made progress.” But this is not so.
    St. Gregory of Nyssa once stated, “Man is mud whom God has commanded to become a god.” This is not the story of progress. We are not mud that is somehow improving itself towards divinity. There is nothing mud can do to become divine. And if we were honest with ourselves, we don’t even become better mud.

    I have been a priest for 34 years (15 as Orthodox). In general, people do not improve. Many people, once they begin the discipline of confession, become frustrated as they notice that they confess the same sins time after time. Often they are embarrassed by this fact and try to apologize to the priest. “I feel like I’m not making any progress at all,” is not an uncommon statement. I tell such penitents that they should not expect to make progress. I don’t mean that they shouldn’t resist sin, only that they will discover that they consistently struggle with the same temptations and succeed and fail more or less over time. That’s how life really is.

    So what is mud like us to do? What is our struggle about?

    “I do unite myself to Christ,” is the statement candidates make at Holy Baptism. These are the words of mud speaking of the most wonderful possible gift. That we should become gods is Christ’s gift to us, not our achievement. It is a reality birthed in our muddy souls at Baptism. And what is birthed in us is a new creation, not really the mud man at all.

    The life in Christ is not at all about improvement. It is rather more about failure. It has nothing to do with improvement.

    Our holy failure is described repeatedly in Scripture:

    For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. (Mat 16:25)
    And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2Co 12:9)
    Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He emptied Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. (Phi 2:5-8)

    More could of course be added. But the thrust of these verses has nothing to do with improvement, let alone moral improvement. What is happening in our spiritual lives is not the perfecting of a better “me.” It is like a comparison between mud and light. Really great, truly outstanding mud, can only ever be mud. It never becomes more “light-like.”

    http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2014/12/05/youre-not-better/

    • The foundation of contemporary Evangelicalism is “progress”, a way of thinking borrowed from Modernism.

      But we have internalized a cultural narrative and made it the story of our soul. That narrative is the story of progress (or decline). It is the story that the modern world tells itself and the story by which it frequently justifies its actions. In the name of progress we have “paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”

      What could be more contemporary for the Evangelical Circus than to invent NEW and IMPROVED© means to the path of Self-improvement?

      • Agreed, Tom, that our usual ideas of progress and improvement are way off the mark and even counter-productive. And yet, there is growth. Luke describes both John the Baptist and Jesus as growing in strength of spirit and wisdom. I would be most disappointed if your priest claimed not to have grown any in 34 years of service.

        However to tell a congregant “that they should not expect to make progress” seems to me a formula for disaster, or at least a recipe for maintaining pew potatoes. If we are told by Paul to “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,” this does not happen normally without our active assent, consent, openness, and cooperation. It is not like our efforts are rewarded, but following Jesus by emptying ourselves does not happen without free will choice and effort.

        Where I think the church goes badly wrong is in not distinguishing between these two methods of growth, or paths if you will. In my opinion this is mainly because most clergy do not have the spiritual discernment and understanding to make this distinction, nevermind being able to instruct how to grow in spirit, a sad comment, and certainly not confined to the Evangelical wing.

        • Charles, I certainly did not post Freeman’s entire article. I think he addresses your concerns. Depends on what is meant by “progress”.

          BTW, Fr. Freeman isn’t “my” priest, but I do follow his blog and usually learn something from his perspective.