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God With Us by Glenn Kreider: A Review

(Lisa Robinson)

P&R Publishing, 240 pages

P&R Publishing, 240 pages

While in seminary, I became fascinated with the study of revelation. God’s disclosure of his actions and character took on heightened meaning in consideration of the biblical story and what God wanted to be made known about himself. But I’ve noticed that this topic can be treated with some remote detachment in the quest to understand God’s character and promises.

God With Us: Exploring God’s Personal Interactions with His People throughout the Bible pops this airy bubble. Glenn Kreider, professor of Theological Studies at Dallas Seminary (he also was my thesis advisor) provides a refreshing look at God’s revelation as he interacts with his creation. Kreider anchors the theme of God’s revelation in terms of his condescension, which he defines as “to descend to a less formal or dignified level.” (24) It is a downward act of condescension that we can know God and it also reveals this heart for his creation. Kreider states, “From the beginning of the biblical story, God’s humility is on display in his activity in the created order. Since what he does reveals who he is, God is revealed as a transcendent being to care for his creation.” (16)

Kreider continues by saying the ultimate expression of condescension is in the incarnation noting, “The Creator of the universe became a creature without ceasing to be the Creator.” (33). In Jesus divine humility he secures redemption for those who will trust in him and Kreider points to the fact that this is instructive for the attitudes of Christians and how they represent Christ. But Kreider broadens the scope of revelation to give a holistic view of God’s condescension in terms of creation, fall, redemption and re-creation.

Thus, in God With Us, Kreider wants to show that divine condescension happened from the beginning of Genesis, stating “any involvement of God in his world is an act of condescension. Further that God humbles himself and interacts with his creation is the major plot line of the Bible and each of the Biblical stories.” (24) Since Jesus is the ultimate expression of God’s condescension, Kreider aptly notes that Scripture must be read through a Christological lens. With this foundation, he traces through the biblical narrative noting God’s intentional interaction with his creation as he interacts with selected texts of Scripture.

As he goes through the Old Testament in Chapters 3-5, a few features prominently will hit the reader in context of the overarching theme as Kreider highlights the trajectory of God’s implementation of his covenantal promises.First, God interacts with the culture of time [I would add it actually comes from him anyway in the form of imitation]. Second, God does so with some of the most unlikely candidates. Third, God demonstrates continual mercy in the face of human failing and judgment.  Continue Reading →

Man-handling Man-centered Theology

(Lisa Robinson)

I often hear this distinction being made typically by Christians who hold the sovereignty of God and the Bible in high esteem, God-centered vs. man-centered. Whenever I see it articulated, I get the sense that it is often communicated to distinguish between Christian faith and practice that is shaped based on the desires of man vs. what God wants and has communicated to us.

Now I do affirm God-centered theology. I do hold God’s sovereignty in high esteem. I strenuously insist that God’s self-revelation though the Incarnate and written word must inform our theology. When deciphering the character and nature of God, his actions and requirements, his ultimate revelation through the Son, and redemptive history it behooves us to approach his Word with the greatest humility. Surely that will mean confronting some aspects that are uncomfortable. But it helps to remember that He is God; we are not.

So I sympathize with the decrying of man-centered theology if that means theology that is shaped by man to accommodate man’s creation of God and the Christian faith in his or her own image. However, I think we can go too far and cut man out of the picture all together. God-centeredness does not mean man nothingness.

A friend alerted me to this interview with Kelly Kapic, author of A Little Book for New Theologians. Kapic is a professor of theological studies at Covenant College. I had not heard of him before but I loved what he said in this interview.

This is partly behind what I mean by advocating for an “anthroposensitive theology.” Forgive me for being technical for a minute, but I define it as a refusal to divorce theological considerations from practical human application, since theological reflections are always interwoven with anthropological concerns. This combination of “anthropo-” (“human”; “relating to human beings”; from Greek anthropos) and “sensitive” is an attempt to avoid an overly simplistic classification of theology as either theocentric (God-centered) or anthropocentric (human-centered).

Clearly our theology must be God-centered, but this language can mask the reality that our theology is, at the same time, concerned with our relation to this God. While other terms such as “pastoral” or “experiential” could be used, these terms often carry either unnecessarily negative connotations or represent a notion of what is done only after theological reflection, as though we work to get our theology correct and then move on to practical concerns. Yet in the complex relationship between life and theology, we should admit that for good or ill our experience and practice not only grow out of our theology but also inform it.

It doesn’t take much for me to convince people that good or bad theology can influence how we live – people are quick to embrace this trickle down theory. But then when I argue that not only does our theology influence our lives, but our lives influence our theology, it is at that point people get nervous. They may agree that ‘liberals’ have allowed ‘cultural forces’ to influence them (e.g., ‘they just think that because they are reflecting radical feminism’ or something like that). But too often we fail to see that this applies to all of us, for good or ill. None of us escape ‘culture,’ and none of us escape the reality that our life experiences influence our theology. Our experiences often make certain things more or less believable (this is similar to an important insight by Wittgenstein). Thus, we need to watch our ‘lives and doctrine’ closely, for they are interwoven in ways we may never fully appreciate.

Continue Reading →

Four Lessons I’ve Learned from Reading Broadly

(Lisa Robinson)

It’s comfortable for Christians to read inside our denomination/tradition. People who think like us, who draw the same conclusions make learning fun. But I think we can become too tribal about Christianity, put our stake in the ground to quickly and use it to battle others in the body, often unfairly.

I’m increasingly realizing the value of reading broadly and by extension, learning broadly. By broadly, I mean works outside of our denominational/doctrinal perspectives. Actually, I don’t think I read broadly enough. But the more I do, I’ve recognized some characteristics about myself have emerged that reinforces the need to get out of the comfy box.

1.  My discernment: or rather lack thereof. There’s something about having to read through work that doesn’t necessarily align with my doctrinal/denominational perspective that forces an examination of what the author is really getting at. I love that in seminary, some professors intentionally assign books for this purpose. Some books even have such troubled theology that sounds really good, not unlike what we might encounter in the contemporary evangelical landscape. I’ve observed that going through the exercise of deciphering what is valuable and what is opposed to historic Christian orthodoxy, sharpens discernment. But if we only read from one perspective, the tendency might be to oppose anything that doesn’t sound like how the gurus from our tribe define it.  Reading broadly on the other hand with the intention of understanding, strengthens discernment. That last part is important because reading to tear something down defeats the purpose of learning.

2.  My arrogance: I can place a great deal of confidence in own investigation. And I have certainly done this. Of course, there were many instances where I claimed to “fairly” evaluate all sides. But honestly, I really didn’t.  Reading broadly confronts that sense of superiority I feel when I think I have everything figured out. It helps me realize that I can learn from others, even those with whom I disagree. When combined with point #1, I’m increasingly finding some valuable nuggets that a more tribal perspective might suppress…and has suppressed.  In fact, I can’t even count how many times I’ve dismissed something just because it’s aligned with a certain teacher or doctrinal perspective without giving it a fair shake. Yep, arrogance. Continue Reading →

Why I Think Non-Pastors Should Care About Pastoral Theology

(Lisa Robinson)

I’m not a pastor. I have no intentions of being a pastor even if I were affiliated with a denomination or church structure that would allow it. Yet, I find that I have quite an interest in pastoral theology, particularly as it relates to the pastors role in the church and shepherding the flock of God. I like to read and think about what makes for an effective pastoring. Now you may ask why I would be so concerned if it doesn’t apply to me. That’s a good question! But I am struck by a variety of reasons.

First, we have to consider the task of pastors from the perspective of a healthy local body. That means caring about pastoral theology is not so much about scrutinizing the ones in that role as much as it is seeing the broader picture of healthy church life. We can be incredibly self-focused and critical people and care only for what the pastor for us individually. But there is something much bigger than ourselves to consider – the body growing itself up together in love (Ephesians 4:15-16) So pastoral theology really is about a love for the church.

We shouldn’t care about pastoral theology to be critical. Yet, an understanding of the pastoral role is an issue of discernment. It amazes me when reports of pastoral malfeasance arise in the public eye and defended by those who question  Believe it or not, pastors do have job descriptions and qualifications found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:7-9; and 1 Peter 5:1-3.

Not only that but the New Testament gives strong support for the church to be governed by a group of elders. And by elders, I don’t mean a board of directors that give a yes vote to the pastor, but those who are actively governing the affairs of the local body.

Now, if your church is structured this way please don’t read what I write as endorsement to go nitpicking the leadership. That is not the intention. But I do believe that every church going believer should be aware that Scripture provides some pretty clear mandates for how the household of God should be governed. Granted there are varying leadership structures and we should have some familiarity with what those are. Ignorance on this matter makes it that much easier for transgressions to occur in the name of a self-proclaimed, God-given mandate. I think that is a sign of healthy pastoring is informing the congregation of what Scripture says about the pastoring responsibility that is rooted in what the breadth of Scripture concerning the nature and purpose of the church (not just cherry-picking some Old Testament passages out of context).  Continue Reading →

Should We Abandon Structured Leadership?

(Lisa Robinson)

Increasingly, I am encountering a definition of the priesthood of the believer to mean a rejection of structured leadership in our local assemblies. Because we are priests with direct access to God, we minister to each other and do not need special offices (pastor/elder) that separate clergy from the rest of Christians, aka lay people. I know that many have been hurt by the local church and especially her leaders. I get that some fear any kind of hierarchical structure for for whatever reason. That may contribute to this form of polity.

For clarification, the term was coined by the Reformers to distinguish the direct access believers have to Christ vs. their access to through clergy. This of course was in repudiation to the papists who claimed that they alone provided access contrary to Hebrews 4:14. Through this direct access, we serve as ministers of the gospel (2 Corinthians 5:18) and minister to one another (Colossians 3:15-16). In this regard, we don’t need structured leadership to minister to one another.

But I will argue that we do need structured leadership for local church. Now, I’m not framing the discussion in terms of congregationalism because I think this is something different (good article on 9Marks here).  Also, I confess that I hold to a presbyterian polity that is somewhat shaping my thesis. But even so, I’m want to be fair to alternate forms of church structure and acknowledge where there is consistency with Scripture.  I question if this egalitarian type of structure is faithful.

If we think just gathering by itself is sufficient and reject the idea of structured leadership, consider Ephesians 4:4-16. There is one body who is to walk according to its purpose, growing up together in Christ through specific means – “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers (vs 11)”

Now there is a diversity of interpretation of the five classifications mentioned.

1) They are offices representing the means through which God has chosen to work through

2) They are gifts representing the means through which God has chosen to work through

3) They refer to specific people that God has chosen to work through

For the sake of brevity, I’ll just provide what I think makes the most sense, which is  definition #1 though I can see some validity for #2. I also think its important to consider prophets and apostles in light of what Paul said earlier in Ephesians 2:20. The very foundation of what Christ built is grounded in the prophetic and apostolic witness, which is transmitted through Scripture. Continue Reading →

Can We Please Stop Fearing Love?

(Lisa Robinson)

The title is more of a rhetorical question. In fact, its a question posed with an increasing chagrin as I see love fought against in the quest to avoid the slippery slope of liberalism. I started to name the title Love Really Does Win and I bet that would have raised the hackles on the backs of many necks. Why? Because when we hear that title, we think of Rob Bell and liberalism (which usually means anything to the left of what we believe). And we get concerned about love.

But here’s the thing: love really did and does win. When I read scripture about God’s reconciling work with his creation accomplished in his Son, I can’t help but see that everything he did was out of love (Romans 5:8; John 15:13; 1 John 3:1 ). It is because God loves us that we can love him (1 John 4:10). We are commanded to love him with all of our being and love neighbor as ourselves (Luke 10:27). Jesus said the way that his disciples would be known is because of their love for another (John 15:12) and John is quite emphatic that without it the love of God is really not manifest in our lives (1 John 2:10; 3:10). Paul insists that our gifts and contributions to the body are meaningless without love (1 Corinthians 13) and desires for our love to grow in the knowledge of God towards each other (Phil 1:9). Peter compels us to love one another deeply because love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 1:22; 4:8)

And yet…

I observe that Christians of the conservative stripe, who really care about not losing truth and sound doctrine tend to downplay it. In fact, I think in some cases there is this fear that if we talk about love too much it will somehow unravel our theology. If we let love be our motive that somehow propels us into liberalism. Why is this? Why do we fear losing something of sound theology if we talk about love too much?

I can’t help but think that the fear of love stems from the threat of losing justice, as if they can be separated. But justice can only be wrought because of God’s active love. Just because there is an emphasis of love does not mean one is sliding down a slippery slope.

Craig Bubeck wrote this piece on love in Christianity Today from an obvious Wesleyan perspective. While I am not Wesleyan, I appreciate what he had to say as it struck at the nerve of what concerned me. He cites many instances of the biblical motive and command for love and indicates that does not mean a lack of justice in this section here; Continue Reading →

On Leading a Quiet Life

(Lisa Robinson)

In case you missed it, the internet has been abuzz the past few days over this article posted by Dr. Anthony Bradley. In it, Bradley’s asserts that ‘missional’ has become a means to aggrandize accomplishments for God and shame people who live ordinary existences because they feel they are not living up to being ‘missional’. He states;

I continue to be amazed by the number of youth and young adults who are stressed and burnt out from the regular shaming and feelings of inadequacy if they happen to not be doing something unique and special. Today’s millennial generation is being fed the message that if they don’t do something extraordinary in this life they are wasting their gifts and potential. The sad result is that many young adults feel ashamed if they “settle” into ordinary jobs, get married early and start families, live in small towns, or as 1 Thessalonians 4:11 says, “aspire to live quietly, and to mind [their] affairs, and to work with [their] hands.” For too many millennials their greatest fear in this life is being an ordinary person with a non-glamorous job, living in the suburbs, and having nothing spectacular to boast about.

Now there is been a fair amount of push back over a lack of qualification of certain statements. But I do agree with the above referenced section. As I wrote here that celebrity Christianity has made the average Joe feel woefully inadequate. Even worse, when you add shame into the equation and tell people they aren’t measuring up unless there doing x, y, z notable accomplishment for the kingdom.

There are other points as well. But central to what I want to write about is Bradley’s premise of 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 (I added vs 12 as it is pertinent to this post), where Paul tells his audience

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you may not be dependent on anyone.

I want to focus on what Paul is telling the Thessalonians because I think it addresses a growing concern of mine. First, on leading a quiet life. The verb ἡσυχάζειν connotes a stillness; inner peace. It is a settled life with what has been given. Now I get that some people have been given responsibility for grander accomplishments. But others can be just as effective leading normal lives, loving God and neighbor, influencing in whatever circles they find themselves. Neither should be exclusively promoted or condemned.

Aside from living a quiet life, what Paul says next is pretty significant, “to mind your own business”. As I scan blogs, Facebook, twitter, sermons, and Christian circles in general, I think there is a unusual pre-occupation with the affairs of others. And by affairs, I mean concern for what others are or are not doing in the body of Christ. We are very quick to cite how others are not measuring up – how their not witnessing enough or giving enough or expending enough time or energy. Deficiencies abound! Continue Reading →

Does Prosperity Teaching Deny the Gospel?

(Lisa Robinson)

As a follow up to my last post On Shai Linne and Judging False Teachers, I’ve been reflecting on the underlying problem with the teachers represented in the song.  It leads me to this question:  does prosperity teaching deny the gospel? Put another way, do the teachers mentioned in Shai Linne’s preach another gospel? Clearly, there is an issue with teaching that is being promoted and it does run contradictory to main themes in Scripture. But what is the underlying problem of the teachers mentioned and what they promote? I found this comment here from the last blog post helpful.

Some watch bloggers and heresy hunters in their zeal to nail falsehood have become all too casual and blasé in labeling someone a “false teacher” and furthermore, they make swift assumptions about their motives such as “so and so is teaching these things to fleece people of their money”.

The reality seems to evade them that it is POSSIBLE to be “an honest heretic” or “an unconscious deceiver” in the sense that the person truly believes in their mind and conscience that what they teach is true biblical interpretation and they want to share it with their followers with a genuine desire to help them…If you are deceived yourself you’ll be naturally deceiving others.

I think he is right. There is a difference between intentional deception vs passing on erroneous teaching because of faulty presuppositions. Having listened to most folks on this list for years, I can attest to the fact that not everyone on that list is a straight-out charlatan. Now some would say that the theological core of the teachers represented is corrupt – denial of God’s character, denial of the atonement, denial of the hypostatic union of Christ. Well, the reality is that the teachers represented do not represent a monolith theology. The reality is that some do not deny the work and person of Jesus Christ and that salvation is based on him.

The issue however, is where Christian hope is placed. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he is addressing this very issue.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed (Galatians 1:6-9)

What was the problem? The judiazers (probably professed believers themselves) were telling the newly converted Gentile Christians that in order to be accepted to God, faith in Christ alone was not enough. Now they did not deny the work and person of Christ per se. In other words, if you were to ask these false gospel-ers who Jesus was and what he did, the conversation would go something like this; Continue Reading →