November 22, 2017

Practice Resurrection, part three

Chaplain Mike continues his response to this new book.

We’re back after a break to resume our introduction to and consideration of Eugene Peterson’s latest book. Practice Resurrection is a theological conversation on growing to maturity in Christ, based on a study of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

In concluding his introduction to the epistle, Peterson draws attention to two texts that bring out Paul’s message.

The first is Ephesians 4.1: “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life [walk] worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” The key word is “worthy.” The word is a metaphor, referring to a balancing scale. Situated as it is, right at the pivot point in the letter, this picture-word describes the exact balance point at which we find wholeness and maturity in Christ. “When God’s calling and our walking fit, we are growing up in Christ.”

The second text is Psalm 68, a passage Paul quotes in chapter 4 of his letter. Peterson writes about how Paul adapts this text to describe Jesus, ascending as King to heaven, receiving gifts of worship (which is the emphasis of the psalm), but then giving gifts to his people as well (Paul’s emphasis). This is extremely significant for Paul, for by placing the emphasis here,

Paul lays out the conditions in which we grow up, namely, in a profusion of gifts: “When he ascended on high…he gave gifts to his people.” The ascended Jesus, Jesus at the right hand of the Father, Christ the King, launched his rule by giving gifts, gifts that turn out to be ways in which we participate in his kingly, gospel rule. This kingdom life is a life of entering more and more into a world of gifts, and then, as we are able, using them in a working relationship with our Lord.

This is one of the best sentences I have read in a long time: “This kingdom life is a life of entering more and more into a world of gifts…” Growing up in Christ is a process of continual discovery, an ongoing exploration and appropriation of the grace of God. We have been brought into a new creation, filled with wondrous benefits and blessings, God-soaked through and through. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1.3).

These two texts complement each other. Specifically, Psalm 68 grounds Ephesians 4.1 and its balance metaphor in God’s grace and generosity toward us in Christ. Without it, the task of “growing up in Christ” would be a hopeless endeavor. We could never “walk” in a way that is worthy of God’s “calling” by ourselves.

However, because our King has ascended on high and brought us into his glorious reign, we can now grow because we live and move and have our being in a new creation that is filled with God’s gifts.

Comments

  1. I like Eugene’s comments, except that Paul’s reference in Ephesians 4:8 seems to say exactly the opposite of Psalm 68. It doesn’t seem toi be just a matter of emphasis. How is Paul able to do this? I’m no expert here: is this a translation thing, or is he really twisting the text of Psalm 68 to say what he wants?
    If Paul were your seminary student, would you accept this as a reasonable interpretation of Psalm 68?

  2. Steve,
    I don’t think Paul’s getting at the opposite of what the Psalmists is saying (I assume that you mean the use of “received” and “gave” in Psalms and Eph, respectively). Rather, it seems that Paul is understanding Christ’s militaristic victory from Ps 68, then applies how that victory benefits us. In other words, Christ does receive, but he also gives. I don’t know if that makes sense, or even answers your question well enough for you, but that’s what I’m thinking.

    P.S. I think Michael Horton explores the idea of ascension and atonement well (though succinct) in “Lord and Servant: A Covenant Christology” pp. 264-266. He also points to a good work by Farrow.

  3. Psalm 68 is an enthronement psalm, celebrating God’s ascension in triumph over his enemies. When a king thus ascended, he received the spoils of victory, which were then divided among his people.

    This psalm was also used by the Jews at Pentecost, to describe the victorious God on Mt. Sinai, who gave the Torah as the gift to his people after his triumphant display of power over Israel’s enemies. The Day of Pentecost, of course, is also the day when the ascended Jesus poured out his Holy Spirit, thus sharing the spoils of his victory with his people.

    See Acts 2:33-34—“This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and HAVING RECEIVED from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, HE HAS POURED OUT this that you both see and hear.”

  4. Thanks for the explanations – it helped a lot!