The so-called “Frame.”

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At theological college, there was a course called theological foundations.  In this course, the lectures outlined the necessary things one should know as the starting point for understanding theology.  These were the required pre-requisite that would determine and shape the way one would see God and the subsequent gospel message. It began with the types of revelation and proceed to cover all aspects of theology such the doctrine of God, doctrine creation, doctrine of the fall and somewhere near the end there was the introduction to the doctrine of Jesus Christ.  This “frame” or a way of seeing and knowing God was essential to grasping the rest of the course.  The majority of the faculty and the students accepted this theological foundation course as the assumed knowledge that is part and parcel of the gospel.  This information can be found in most “What we Believe” statements in many evangelical churches.  This begs the question: Is this consistent with the whole of the theme of the New Testament? If not: Where does all this knowledge come from?

There are as many as 30,000 denominations all over the world who have various frames from which their statements are built from.  With these many different denominations come many disagreements on what is the right way to believe.  With these disagreements divisions arise with some claiming they are the only way. I agree there is only one way but the “one way” is not something that is in our hands as an exclusive possession. The way, the Truth and the Life resides upon a hill for all to see as the Light that is strategically placed so that the most receive the benefits.  The problem we have today, generally speaking, is this Light is conditionally received within the walls of the church. The gospel message had become so complex that most people find it too difficult to share it within their own community.

The starting point for how we understand the gospel is so crucial.  For example, some might say that human being cannot tolerate the absolute presence of God because of sinful nature and God is too holy to look upon sin. This is something that was central to the doctrine of Arius (De Decretis 8) If this is the frame from which we proceed to know God then this statement will shape who we believe God to be and the role that Jesus played in the Incarnation. God the Father is portrayed as different to God the Son, Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ is not quite as God as the Father is God but not quite human as we are human. Though they may deny that Jesus is less than God the conversation that follows from their frame is evident they may not fully understand the implications of Jesus divinity and/or humanity.

Others may have a frame that begins with evolution.  On the one hand, they might believe the New Testament story but the frame of evolution will shape how creation is to be understood, the whole incarnational event is interpreted and what the implications are for us and our salvation. There may be different aspects of what is believed to have happened in our evolutionary past that might weigh in on the history of Israel, the Incarnation and the passion. This is the case with René Girard’s scapegoating theory and the development of religion and culture.  This is a frame that shapes how we view both the Old and New Testament.  For both evolution and René Girard’s theory their is an ‘if’ as to whether or not there is truth enough in their statements to weigh into the gospel.  If this theory is true then they should weigh in.  If one is to assume there is truth in either of these theories, then this will act as a muzzle that will determine how we navigate our way through the Bible.  In my opinion, there may be some truth in these theories but not enough to be the frame through which we interpret the gospel.

Since the beginning of the year, I have been undertaking an intense and in depth study of the ancient church. I am learning in detail what is they believed and the frame through which they came to hold so fast on the gospel.  When we look at the teaching of Irenaeus of the second century in relation to Athanasius, Basil and Gregory Nazianzus (Oration 31.3)of the fourth century and Cyril of Alexandria of the fifth century there is a common and consistent theme that made them singularly strong in their frame of reference. So let us begin with Irenaeus as he comments about Matt. 11:27 & Luke 10:22

Against Heresies 4.6.4 For the Lord taught us that no man is capable of knowing God, unless he be taught of God; that is, that God cannot be known without God: but that this is the express will of the Father, that God should be known. For they shall know [3861] Him to whomsoever the Son has revealed Him.

Hilary says very much the same in:

On the Trinity 1.18 Since then we are to discourse of the things of God, let us assume that God has full knowledge of Himself, and bow with humble reverence to His words. For He Whom we can only know through His own utterances is the fitting witness concerning Himself.

and again:

4.36 But lest these words, For I am, and before Me there is no other God, nor shall be after Me, be made a handle for blasphemous presumption, as proving that the Son is not God, since after the God, Whom no God precedes, there follows no other God, the purpose of the passage must be considered. God is His own best interpreter, but His chosen Servant joins with Him to assure us that there is no God before Him, nor shall be after Him. His oxen witness concerning Himself is, indeed, sufficient, but He has added the witness of the Servant Whom He has chosen. Thus we have the united testimony of the Two, that there is no God before Him; we accept the truth, because all things are from Him. We have Their witness also that there shall be no God after Him; but They do not deny that God has been born from Him in the past. Already there was the Servant speaking thus, and bearing witness to the Father; the Servant born in that tribe from which God’s elect was to spring. He sets forth also the same truth in the Gospels: Behold, My Servant Whom I have chosen, My Beloved in Whom My soul is well pleased. This is the sense, then, in which God says, There is no other God before Me, nor shall be after Me. He reveals the infinity of His eternal and unchanging majesty by this assertion that there is no God before or after Himself. But He gives His Servant a share both in the bearing of wireless and in the possession of the Name of God.

Athanasius runs with this same theme that the knowledge of God is contained only in Jesus Christ through which the precise knowledge of the Father is contained (Contra Arianos 1.9; 16). Basil stressed importance on the knowledge of God in his epistle to Amphilocius (ep 233). Cyril of Alexandria also held the same view that the precise knowledge of the Godhead is contained within the Son (In John Bk 10). Thus, many of the fathers of the ancient church clearly understood the importance of a frame of reference not on presuppositions but on the very Person of God, Jesus Christ.  Pursuing the knowledge of God can only begin in Jesus Christ who is the exact representation of the Father’s being.

If human beings cannot tolerate the absolute presence of God, then what does that say about Jesus Christ?  If we believe Jesus is God of God, Light of Light of the same being with the Father, then how is that the Apostle John and the disciples beheld His glory, touched Him with their hands etc? How is it that people who encountered Jesus Christ, God as man, in His journey on earth could tolerate His presence?  To be consistent with the ancient church, when Jesus Christ walked the earth, He was Yahweh manifested to us as this human being.  As much as He, the Divine Word, was consubstantial with the Godhead, the Word was consubstantial with human flesh possessing a human mind, soul and spirit and assumed it into Himself. All of what we know what it is to be human is precisely the kind of human being Jesus Christ became.

It is important to understand the significance of the Word taking on flesh in the likeness of Adam.  He assumed all that we are so that we might become all that He is.  Jesus Christ become like His brethren taking into Himself all our brokenness, depravity and sinful nature that is in opposition to the Father. The whole of our humanity was assumed into Jesus Christ’s humanity at the Incarnation.  The event is as significant as the Passion. When we say, “Jesus is God,” or, “Jesus is the eternal Word,” it does not have nearly as much impact on our modern way of seeing and knowing as it did in the ancient world. For God to become one of us and disclose Himself in our time and space was shocking beyond measure to the ancient mind, even to those in Israel.  Jesus Christ was so human, it appeared impossible that his claim to be God could hold any shred of truth. Even though He presented signs and wonders that should have convinced the Jewish establishment, the more convincing His miraculous actions were, the more determined were people set out to kill Him.

The actual Person of Jesus Christ became the frame of reference for understanding all the ways and works of God. No other person in the whole of human history could offer a frame that would better explain the nature and character of God.  To begin with any other frame is to arrogantly say, “I know better than God Himself.” To look to Jesus Christ is to know that God exists and to know that He revealed Himself in precisely this way.  Whatever way we believe God to be must conform to how He revealed Himself as this Man, Jesus Christ. In revealing Himself in precisely this way, we are in a position to apprehend His truth but not in such a way that we will ever fully comprehend Him. After all, Jesus Christ is the one who by the power of His word created all things and it is in Him that all things consist and are held together.  How can we comprehend that? He is the One who placed Himself in harms way and allowed us to kill Him in the most cruel manner, all for our sake. How can we comprehend that?  How can we comprehend the fact that such was our hatred and depravity towards Him, His love for us is far higher, wider and deeper than we could even grasp?  There is so much that God has given us to know through Jesus Christ but there is so much more that we will never ever be able to grasp. What blows my mind is Jesus Christ became the “ethical” and the “moral” example, not so much for us to imitate, but the One who did it in our place, on our behalf and for our sake.

When we operate through this frame we do so with the knowledge that Jesus Christ stood in our place, on our behalf and for our sake throughout His whole life. He acted perfectly as The Human Being for all human beings and thus His action, habits (ethos or ethics/morality) was brought to perfection in Him. He acted towards us as God would act, that is, His φιλανθρωπία (lover of humanity) was fully displayed. The utter union between the Father and Son means that throughout His whole life we see the heart of the Father in Jesus Christ.  We see the hand of friendship extended from the Father, through the Son towards us, even though we did not return it in likewise manner.  We see in Jesus Christ, the Triune God’s, “I love you,” and we are commanded to receive His love so that we can love others in the power of Christ’s love in the Spirit. We love because Christ first loved us, not the other way around (1John 3:23-24; 4:10).  Therefore we abide in His love. There is nothing we can do that will undo the reality of our union with the Triune God.

When someone says there is a different frame to the Person of Jesus Christ as the interpretive rule of faith, then they are not operating from the Christian frame of mind provided to us by God Himself.  For example, René Girard has his own frame based on an idea that may nor may not have happened. Like the heresies of old, some are trying to introduce this into the frame of Christianity already provided by God Himself in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. He largely provides a method of undertaking an ethical lifestyle not far removed from the ancient philosophical school of ancient Greece which was strongly resisted in the ancient church.  It is not enough to alter the frame that is already disclosed in Jesus Christ. To attempt to blend the two together is to say that the truth of Jesus Christ is not enough.  Many evangelicals who believe human beings cannot tolerate the absolute presence of God are not even aware this originates in Gnosticism through Arius and Origen (This is not to say Origen believed this. Nevertheless, some aspects of his teaching prepared the way for many of the heresies that were to come). Evolution is an idea that describes what might have happened in the past. This too is not enough to alter the frame already disclosed in Jesus Christ.

Once the frame provided through Jesus Christ is altered, then someone has to step in His place as a mediator for this new frame.  The authority and freedom provided in Jesus Christ is undermined and is at the risk of being conditionally bound by human beings who hold to this new frame.  This may open the doorway for abuse and manipulation. If I resist the frame or disagree, then I am often at the mercy of abuse and ridicule for not complying.

As we all know, there is only One Mediator between God and humanity and this is the Man, Jesus Christ.  The knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves in fully contained in Him. We become ignorant of Him if we believe there are others ways of knowing God outside of Jesus Christ or believe new information might bear relevance and change how He is disclosed in the New Testament. Let’s keep our eyes on Jesus Christ only so we can grow together and learn more about the freedom of His love and thereby feel even more freedom to love one another.