Empty Spaces – Stuart Johnson

Christian theology does not answer all our questions.  Our theology is revealed to us by God Himself.  God has chosen Himself to come to us as the Man Jesus Christ clothed in our humanity so that a point of contact might be made to open dialogue with us.  If it was not for this event of the Incarnation, it would be impossible for God to be known.  Among humanity, there is only one Teacher, Jesus Christ.  He has left us the Spirit of Christ to remind all that Jesus Christ has said.  Every single human being is a student to God.  To know God, God has to make Himself known.

The uniqueness of the Christian message is God has made Himself known to all human beings.  The incarnation meant that God has inserted Himself into the very flesh and blood of our existence.  Real concrete dialogue can actually happen for those who have an ear to hear and an eye to see.  It is when we know we are hearing from Him that we truly start to see.  When we encounter God and assent to Him it is at this time we are the most vulnerable.  We have One Lord Jesus Christ with the One body we call the church.  Authentic knowledge of God can only be drawn from God who discloses knowledge of Himself in the revelation of Jesus Christ.  What we find in this revelation is God as relational Persons, Father, Son and Spirit.  They have created us to bear their image. In turn, we are relational persons in union with our Creator in Jesus Christ.  There is interpenetration with the mind of God and our minds.  As we allow ourselves to be known and we begin to know God we awaken to the way things really are. However, in the world we live in, this is not as straightforward as it seems.  It is from the time we begin to hear and the time we begin to see that things can begin to get rather complicated.

Generally speaking we only need to go from one fellowship to another to realise there can be vast differences in how each congregation understands God. It is the community through the leadership that often determine how God should be known.  There is usually some high bar that one has to jump over or hoops that one must jump through to become an accepted member of the community.  I am fine with that.  Christ is in people in these communities no less than He is in me.  I find we just see things differently.  We always have to bear in mind what Jesus said, “Whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:40).  There are numerous types and varieties of denominations each doing their own interpretation of what it means to serve Jesus Christ.  Some live their whole life never knowing anything about Trinitarian theology or the gospel according to the ancient church.  They are all brothers and sisters even though we may consider them to be a little shortsighted.

I remember watching a children’s program with my 4 year old daughter.  In this animation, a dad built a cubby house for his son.  When it was all finished. the boy ran inside full of excitement.  Once he was inside the lavish cubby house he was disappointed to find there was nothing inside.  He didn’t know what to do.  Then his grandmother called out to him, “Fill the empty spaces with your imagination!”  I remember doing just this when I was young.  My young friend and I put up the beach tent and it would turn into Jupiter 2 and we would take on the characters of Lost in Space.  It was just a beach tent but in our minds we were in Jupiter 2 in some far off galaxy exploring mysterious planets and fighting off aliens.

There is much of systematic theological systems that function in this way.  If the significance of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ is not fully realised, then we are left with empty spaces in our knowledge of God.  What we do with these empty spaces is fill them with our imagination.  The foundation for the way these spaces are filled is to use “anthro-theology.”  This is what the creatures of God believe God to be.  What I mean is we tend to take what we understand to be qualities of our human nature that we aspire to, take them to an infinite degree and arbitrarily decide this is what God must be like.  This is a delusion put forward by our own darkness.

When we realise the significance of Jesus Christ as God of very God who becomes human then we have “Christ-theology.”  This is what God, Jesus Christ, says to us about Himself.  There are enormous benefits to seeing clearly what it means to understand Jesus Christ in the context of the Trinity.  I encountered Jesus Christ almost 25 years ago.  But I did not understand the context of Jesus Christ according to the Trinity.  Unbeknown to me, there were plenty of spaces when it came to systematic theology.  With 20/20 hindsight I now know these empty spaces were filled with imagination.  It would begin with the Doctrine of Revelation, then the Doctrine of God, then Creation, Angels and Demons, Man and Sin, and the finally Jesus Christ, Holy Spirit, Salvation Church and Last Things.  You notice that Jesus Christ is brought in at the latter end of the scheme.  Up until we come to the doctrine of Jesus Christ, much of what is covered is imagination.  With imagination as the premise, the doctrine of Jesus Christ is laid out.  God is way out there at a distance and we have to somehow work out who He is.  Strings of human logical thinking is laid out to try and make sense of the gospel according to this section of the evangelical church.  Each tradition will have their own systematic theology that may slightly differ to what I have laid out above.

Even though I was immersed in the lifestyle of a church who held to these theologies filled with empty spaces, I  was still convinced I was a Christian.  I was absolutely drowning in this stuff.  I knew the Holy Spirit still had a firm grip on me.  It was with gentleness and kindness that I was shown the bigger picture by people who were involved in Perichoresis and Perichoresis Australia.  I felt they gave me the room to process and unpack Trinitarian Theology and gradually learn to walk in it in total rest and freedom.  I believe people like Baxter Kruger have been pivotal in highlighting the problems of evangelical theology and introducing the gospel according to the ancient church.  This he has done with humility and gentleness giving plenty of space for people to try and work it out for themselves.  There are many others who have quietly gone about the business of presenting the truth as it was understood in the ancient mind.  In doing so, many of us have found that rather than empty spaces being filled with imagination, these very spaces are filled with Jesus Christ.

Revelation begins with Jesus Christ as the unveiling of all the ways and works of God.  Jesus Christ contains in His own Person the doctrine of God. Jesus Christ is the goal of creation.  Man is understood in reference to Jesus Christ.  Sin is also in context to Jesus Christ and so on. Each point in systematic theology has its beginning and conclusion in Jesus Christ so that He fills out everything we need to know about God, the Father, Son and Spirit.  As Jesus Christ is the meeting point for everything we know about God, then all theology and doctrine begins with Jesus Christ.  No one knows the Father except for Jesus Christ.

Even though all the spaces are filled out with Jesus Christ, sometimes there are spaces that appear to be empty.  Questions like, “what about universalism?” are often raised.  It is a question like this that raise even more questions than answers.  Questions that often go along with universalism are those about hell.  A careful study of the Scripture can show us much about God in Light of Jesus Christ.  We can say love is expressed in Him in a particular way that shows us who God is.  Even though the work of God in Jesus Christ is universal and the whole of the human race has been included in His redemptive work, it appears as though there are empty spaces when it comes to topics like universalism.  It is only when we try to fill these empty spaces with imagination we push Jesus Christ aside and act as if we are just as clever as He is and find answers that are simply not there.

Determining what God is not will not necessarily tell us what He is. This what the Arians believed would prove Jesus Christ was on the creaturely side of the demarcation line.  Discussions on hell and universalism will often try and draw a logical bridge between what God is not to what God is.  Though they may give us some idea of who and what God is in Himself, we have to be cautious about drawing heavily on theses conclusions to prove a particular fact.  We report what is disclosed in Jesus Christ.  We can have a cautious optimism about the possibility of universalism.  However, forcing logical bridges to lead to this fact is creating God in an image that satisfies us and is therefore idolatry.  It is the same with discussions on hell.  We can say as much as we like what it is not and peel away all the pagan myths that have infiltrated theology but it will not necessarily say anything about what it really is.  We cannot make logical bridges to explain hell away.

I have tremendous faith in the nature and character of God.  I also have tremendous faith in the capacity for people when confronted with the truth to embrace it rather than run away from it or avoid it.  We are crying out the truth in a huge cloud of deception, misconceptions, darkness and outright untruths about the gospel.  Nevertheless, the Spirit of Christ is at work in each human being.  It is this Spirit that opened my eyes to the truth at the age of 30.  This shocked many people around me.  In the midst of my darkness, the Light shone and I saw Him.  I knew Him but I knew nothing of all the current theological dramas that go on today.  Yet the Light continually shines in me as it fills out all the empty spaces with Jesus Christ.  We do not need imagination to fill out these spaces.  All spaces are filled with Christ Himself.