The Last Word – Stuart Johnson

95% of all theological essays are criticisms of other theological points of view.  This is something T F Torrance said in his lectures, The Ground and Grammar of Theology.  There is hardly a group of people who will uniformly agree on the main points of Christian doctrine.  With this attitude of theology especially within the academic field, each faculty from their particular campus will no doubt have their slant on how theology is to be understood.  One has to conform to those who have the weight of qualifications to adequately meet the course requirements and achieve the satisfactory standard for accreditation.  In most cases, the reality of what is revealed in Jesus Christ and the actual course content are in conflict with one another.  Depending on the particular tradition, the message contained in Scripture is outrightly paganized and the reality of Jesus Christ who is God who comes to us as human as we are is severely eroded.  Jesus Christ is moulded and crafted to meet with the imaginations of mere human beings so that their power and principality structures are kept firmly in place.

Why does T F Torrance make such a statement?  One can only fully understand this if we realise firstly that we are truly lost in our sin, especially within our minds.  Jesus Christ is the Light that shines within our dark and depraved mind but many are too blinded by darkness to actually see Him.  Secondly, we must remind ourselves that we do not know God, especially the way God the Son knows God the Father.  We don’t even know the Son the way the Father knows the Son.  For us to know the things of God, it is God who must teach us the things of Himself.  In Christianity, there is God the Father, God the Son who became Human and thus forming a bridge between the knowledge of God and humanity and then there is all humanity.  There is union between all three but there is also the distinction.  This distinction is simply that we are not God so whatever we know about God is what is disclosed by God as Jesus Christ who shines the Light of knowledge of Himself upon a hill for all to see.  The Light of Himself shines the brightest and is on the highest hill.  The rest of humanity can only source His Light but do not have the power to change this one and only reality into any other reality.  There is no other reality.  There is only one teaching and this teaching is what Christ teaches and these are teachings of Himself on behalf of the whole Triune God.  If we are to be witnesses of His majesty, then we can only declare and say the same things as Jesus Christ.

The modern idea of church as a meeting place is entirely out of favour in the Western world.  Attendance in most congregations are on the decline and the average age is steadily increasing.  Christianity is restricted to the Sunday service with its structure that you can set the clock too.  I call it fast food Christianity that gives the fix for the next seven days.  The traditional message perceived by the community is a far cry to the message first portrayed by the ancient church.  Ministers are produced by the seminaries associated with the mainstream denominations.  They are trained according to a set of criteria at a significant cost to those who attend the courses.  With the years of study, mentoring and finally ordination, the same old same old is being delivered to the congregations they serve with often very discouraging results.  In this country alone we have well over 10.000 burnt out pastors as a result of the enormous emotional demand placed on them.  Something is terribly wrong with the state of the institution’s affairs.

One thing we do exceptionally well is to critique and attack each other. This might not be the way to go.  It is Jesus Christ who critiques us all.  Our task in theology is more than trying to gain a spotlight on us and attention seek the masses to take notice of what we have to say.  We each turn to Jesus Christ as the only one who knows our God the Father and let Him teach us the way things are. At no time do we take our eyes of the only place where any true knowledge of God can be drawn.  God the Person is our premise and this Person of Jesus Christ sets the terms for our understanding of Him.

When we critique another theologian, we must not do so in a subversive way making our premise elusive.  If the premise is ambiguous then the whole argument is surely grounded on the pagan mind.  So paganized are we in the West that we find it enormously difficult to fully grasp what it means to adopt the mind of Christ and see the way He sees.  What Christ declares is far above our novel ideas, theories and hypotheses.  He is far above our doctrines of God.  If we have ideas that take priority over God who self-discloses Himself as the Man Jesus Christ, then we totally disregard what God personally says about Himself and about us.  The more we do this the more we jeopardise the reality of our union with God as the One and only Mediator between Him and each one of us.  When this happens, we have human mediators who step in and set the terms and conditions for our relationship with God, the context of the Spirit of Christ in us, paving the way for hierarchical control.  Thus it becomes more important to submit to denominational leadership than control by the Spirit.  In some cases, control by the Spirit is often confused with control and submission under leadership of churches.  This often leads to abuse of power where people are hurt by inappropriate behaviour of leaders towards those they are suppose to serve and harsh judgements regarding submission, morality and doctrinal positions.  The control can be subtle or taken to the extreme as we find in death or sex cults.  If our union with God is questioned then we must stand our ground and guard ourselves against the risk of tyranny.

The common ground we have in Trinitarian theology is our union with the Triune God in Jesus Christ.  The most important relationship each and everyone of us have is the relationship we have between Jesus Christ and the Father.  It is in this relationship we are bound in such loving embrace that God will never ever let us go, even if we are foolish enough to damn ourselves to hell.  I find this indicative truth makes the imperative so much easier to grasp.  Love is about dignity, courtesy and mutual respect.  We have been fully humanised in Christ in a dignifying and respectful way.  When we see people from the point of view of Jesus Christ, we realise we can love others without any grounds for judging based on morality.

Jesus Christ forged a relationship with us while we were lost in our sin and in the midst of our questionable behaviour.  All the while, the Father Son and Spirit had already set up shop in us and deemed us worthy to be their temple.  Once our eyes are truly opened to the truth, it is then we discover the reality that is already in us.  The One from before time is now actively within time lavishing His whole being towards us in overwhelming, all-powerful love.  In the right context, we realise this love is far too big for us to contain.  Such is the size of the love of God disclosed in the Person and work of Jesus Christ it is impossible to determine anyone is on the outside of it because there is no outside to His love.  How can any human being begin to schematise such love into orderly doctrinal points?  God is the only one who can understand His own love.  All we can do is sit in wonder and amazement.

For Perichoresis Australia. our premise is clear.  We believe in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed first laid down in 325AD, expanded in 381AD and confirmed in 451AD.  We believe not only this creed but the evolution and the explanation of it by those who played a part in developing the foundations for the Trinitarian faith over the first few centuries.  We have found in particular people like T F Torrance has helped us to uncover and guide us through this vitally important period in history.  He has highlighted people like Irenaeus, Athanasius, Hilary of Poitiers, Cyril of Alexandria and Epiphanius as key figures in laying down the truth handed down by the Apostles.  These writings placed questions against our own ideas on what it means to be Christian.  Of course there are other significant figures but we believe the above mentioned provide us with clarity of the truth of which we stand firm.  Why are we so strong on this?  We feel it is the only way we can ensure freedom from abuse of power amongst the community.

The source of the gospel does not lie within our own flesh but in the heart of the Triune God in whom the Son, Jesus Christ, is the only one who can teach us their inner truths.  Whether one is highly qualified or has minimal education in the gospel, no one at all can teach with such clarity as the Spirit of Christ.  No one can understand each of our unique journeys as the Spirit of Christ.  Christianity is not based on careful and cleverly devised doctrinal statements.  It lies in the heart of the relationship between the Father and the Son and the astonishing fact that we are all equally included in this beautiful bond of utterly staggering, inconceivable love.  This love is far more powerful and mysterious for us to entirely fathom.  So we continually question ourselves to truly understand the enormous significance of Christ in us.  This is the reality for all people.  So instead of spending so much time critiquing other theologians against our own theology, we should spend more time critiquing our own theology against the reality of Jesus Christ.

The gospel is more about who Jesus Christ is and the claims He made regarding Himself and us in Him than our so called precise statements about Him.  When we teach, it is always with the goal of equipping and encouraging others to gain clarity of what it means to have Christ in us.  It is about the Person of Christ meeting our person in a completely united fashion.  This may mean that it might look different from person to person, just as marital relationships look different from marriage to marriage.  Some appear somewhat altogether and some appear somewhat messy but the bond between the two can never be broken.  The only difference here is the bond between us and Christ can never be broken on our side.  We can all be confident that Christ will never fail us or forsake us in the way other people might do.

1Cor 13:4-8

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails;

and;

1Cor 2

And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.

Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; but just as it is written,

Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard,
And which have not entered the heart of man,
All that God has prepared for those who love Him.”

For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.

But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.

As with Paul, our emphasis is always on Jesus Christ and the demonstration of His power over our intellect and authority.  We all have access to the Spirit of Christ and therefore the capacity to engage with the mind of God.  This is not a reserved for Sunday sermon but daily Living bread at every breath we take and in everything we do.