A study that considers the
dynamic implications of the life of the risen Lord Jesus
©1999 by James
A. Fowler. All rights
Lutheran professor, Karl Paul Donfried, writes in his book, The Dynamic Word,
Methodist pastor, Maxie Dunnam, former World Editor of the "Upper Room" devotional, concurs as he writes in his book, Alive in Christ: The Dynamic Process of Spiritual Formation: He defines "spiritual formation" as
James S. Stewart, Scottish Presbyterian professor and preacher, adds in his classic book, A Man in Christ:
Jacques Ellul, of the French Reformed tradition, and an author whose writings have served to ignite fire in my soul, writes in his book, The Presence of the Kingdom:
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity:
Evangelicals have used certain Biblical and theological words so often, so loosely, for so long, that they now require a re-think as to their true Biblical meaning. It is easy to get in a rut (defined by some as a grave with both ends extended). It is easy to settle in to the "givens" of a particular religious vocabulary and assume that everyone understands what everyone else is talking about.
I fear that many Christians have been restrained from understanding the Scriptures as God would seek to apply them to their lives, because they approach the text of Scripture from an super-imposed pre-suppositional "grid" of vocabulary and interpretation. In fact, I wonder if some of the narrow, theologically-slanted and conservatively-maintained definitions and interpretations which evangelicals have imposed on other Christians, have not kept Christians as ignorant of true Christianity, as did the denial of the Scriptures themselves to the masses in the Middle Ages. Back then it was the denial of physical access; today it is the denial of the interpretive access of the Holy Spirit. Back then the Bible was chained to the pulpit; now it is chained to ideological constructs and semantic formulations.
It has been the propensity of the Western church to "box" up Christian thought into neat little air-tight packages, the composite of which becomes our accepted "belief-system," or what we call "the gospel". The Western mind has a "lust for certainty" which allows for no "loose ends", no paradoxes, no antinomies. We want to get everything "figured out", cut and dried; categorized, formulized, systematized, theologized--fossilized! If God will not fit into our "reasonable categories", then we will have to reduce Him to fit. We want to get a handle on it, so we can "handle it". But God is not an "it".
We are "thing" oriented, instead of God-oriented, and theology is the biggest "plaything" in the evangelical play-pen. We want logical formulas, precise techniques, definite doctrines, exact theology. We do not like intangibles-such as the invisible dynamic of the Spirit of God at work in His created order, so we formulate tangibles - golden calves-or their counterpart, ideological idols carved in the concrete of inflexible minds.
Even the present attempt to move beyond the static definitions of staid evangelicalism is fraught with its own inherent danger. Definitions by their very definition are static. A definition is an attempt to "nail down" and particularize to the point of precision of thought. There is no such thing as a "dynamic definition", yet it is my objective to ascertain how the divine dynamic of Jesus Christ applies to certain Biblical categories. The warning of James Stewart Stewart, Scottish preacher and writer, A Man in Christ, is probably appropriate: "Those who have succeeded in defining doctrine most closely, have lost Christ most completely." With that warning ringing in my ears, I proceed to consider some of the dynamic implications of certain Biblical and theological words, remembering that the dynamic is in Jesus Christ, not in the definition.
The traditional definition of grace as "an undeserved gift of God" tends to portray "grace" as an entity, a "gift", something we can "lay hold of" or" possess." Grace becomes something static. The "undeserved favor of God" still suffers from the same tendency, even if more abstracted.
Grace is a distinctively theistic concept, conceivable only when the distinctive separation between God and man is effectively maintained, conceivable only when the Creator God can act toward the creature man in the operative and dynamic function of the Greater acting on behalf of the lesser.
The grace of God is free and spontaneous. There is no inner necessity or external obligation to account for what God does. God acts functionally, as He does, because he is God.
Grace is divinely determinative. It is the "divine initiative" of God.
God is a self-giving self who expresses Himself in grace. Grace can never be detached from the personal presence and action of God. This is why grace cannot be adequately viewed as a separate "gift", or a mere attitude of undeserved favor in the mind of God. Grace is not a substance or commodity. Grace is not an attitude or moral persuasion. Grace is not a power or a force. Grace is not quantitative. Grace is as complete as God Himself, and expresses the quality of Himself, His character within His creation.
The content of grace is the expressive function of Himself in His fullness. As Jesus Christ is the functionally expressive agent of God , the "Word", the One who incarnates God, and makes visible the invisible character of God, it can be said that there is no grace apart from Jesus Christ. The self-giving of God takes place through His Son.
Grace cannot be fully defined as a static "gift" or as a static "attitude" of favor. Grace needs to be defined personally, not mechanically; qualitatively, not quantitatively; actively, functionally, dynamically, not statically. Grace is the dynamic free-flow of God's activity of givingness, consistent with His character.
The particular event of Christ's redemptive passion is rightfully made the focal-point of God's grace. The redemptive expression of grace was God's intent from before the foundation of the world, and all consequent expressions of grace are grounded in redemption. But as Joe Carson Smith notes in "Christian Standard" magazine (9,9,79),
There is such an historicizing and theologizing tendency in evangelical theology. Protestant theology has tended to have an event-centered concept of grace, tying grace either to the event of redemptive grace, or to the event of conversion grace. We must beware of limiting grace to an historically redemptive event or an existential event of decision-making. An event-centered concept of grace inevitably becomes a static concept of grace.
Historical understanding: Roman Catholicism taught that when a person received the redemptive grace of God in conversion grace, there was a infusion of God's grace into man whereby man could co-operate with God's grace in living the Christian life. Thus man could by his repentance, obedience, and partaking of the sacraments merit more "grace." This additional grace could become the secondary basis for a better "right standing" with God. The Reformers of the Protestant Reformation rightly reacted against this progressive and quantitative concept of grace, arguing for a narrowly defined redemptive grace, that became an event-centered grace, which viewed grace primarily as the attitudinal favor of God that prompted God to send Jesus. They tried to avoid using "grace" in reference to the regenerative and sanctifying activity of God in the hearts of men, ascribing that activity to the work of the Holy Spirit. Such an event-centered "grace", a past-tense view of grace, a "grace" for justification, but not for sanctification, has been the Protestant theological tendency to this day. American evangelicalism has tended to focus also on the conversion "decision" event of grace as well as the redemptive grace.
God's grace is the dynamic sufficiency of God's activity for the entirety of the Christian life. God's grace is the basis of our identity, our standing, our behavior, our obedience, our strength, our speech, our stewardship, our reactions to the trials and sufferings of life, etc. God's grace is the dynamic enabling for all ministerial function and for all eschatological expectation.
To say that "grace" is "the undeserved favor of God" is not wrong, per se, but it has led to static conceptions of grace.
Hans-Helmut Esser in The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology points out that the Apostolic Fathers "hardened the development in the understanding of grace. Grace was institutionalized as grace for the community and for office. It became an aid for the preservation of correct teaching and the ethics of the new law." Static.
Paul's view of grace is comprehensive and dynamic.
T.F.Torrance writes - The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers
Grace is the dynamic free-flow of a self-giving God, expressing His activity consistent with His character. Such was His expression historically and redemptively in Jesus Christ. Such is His expression presently for the entirety of the function of Christian living. Such is His expression eschatologically and eternally.
The definition of faith in many evangelical circles has to do with "believing the right things", i.e. the doctrinal statements of a particular denomination. Faith is often viewed as nothing more than mental assent to the veracity of the historicity of Jesus and particular theological statements.
J.I. Packer - "Simple assent to the gospel, divorced from a transforming commitment to the living Christ, is by Biblical standards less than faith, and less than saving, and to elicit only assent of this kind would be to secure only false conversions."
C.S. Lewis - Mere Christianity - "Faith is used by Christians in two senses or on two levels. (1) simple belief-accepting or regarding as true the doctrines of Christianity. (2) Faith in the higher sense of trusting God.
Jacques Ellul - Living Faith - (remarkable contrast of belief and faith)
Faith is not just believing the right things, historical or theological. Faith is man's receptivity of God's activity!!
John Calvin (Institutes III, xiii,5) - "faith is a thing merely passive, bringing nothing of our own to conciliate the favor of God, but receiving what we need from Christ."
William Barclay -The Mind of Christ - "The first element in faith is what we can only call receptivity - not simply receptivity of facts; not just receptivity of the significance of the facts; but receptivity of Jesus Christ."
Faith - our receptivity of HIS activity. Faith is personal. Faith is not just faith in a procedure, or a promise, or in the power of faith, but faith is receptivity of a Person. Faith is not receptivity of an offer or a benefit. The content of that which we receive in faith is Personified Truth, the expression of God's Word.
Faith is the continuous response of man to God's grace. Our receptivity of His grace activity. The "obedience of faith" (Rom. 1:5; 16:26) is but the receptivity of the divine dynamic that alone fulfills the divine demands; the receptivity of the divine expression that alone fulfills the divine expectation.
C.S. Lewis - Mere Christianity -
Jacques Ellul - Living Faith -
G.W. Bromiley - International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (revised) -
The implications of this dynamic receptivity of "faith" are sobering. "Whatever is not of faith is sin" (Rom. 14:23). Whenever we do not allow for the receptivity of the grace-activity of God, always consistent with His character, then the result can only be inconsistent with the character of God, and therefore "sin." "Without faith it is impossible (no dynamic) to please Him" (Heb 11:6).
A true understanding of faith must take into account the continuous on-going feature of "our receptivity of His dynamic activity."
Martin Luther - "When the article of justification has fallen, everything has fallen. This is the chief article from which all other doctrines have flowed."
John Calvin - "Justification is the main hinge on which religion turns."
Dare we suggest that the majority of contemporary Christians do not have a clue as to the meaning of justification? Justification used to be a legal term, but its primary usage today is as a computer word-processing term, pertaining to the justification of margins; right justification, left justification, center justification, etc., the proper alignment of text. If we read that connotation of "justification" into Scripture we will obviously arrive at a different interpretation than did the theologians of yesteryear. Apart from the computer usage of "justification", many would conceive of justification as self-justification, the attempt to justify one's self, to conceal with apologies or excuses, to gloss over, to whitewash, to "cover-up." We have a problem in understanding "justification" in English speaking culture today. Many New Testament translations have chosen to avoid the word "justification" altogether, and refer only to "righteousness."
"Righteousness" has historically been cast into legal framework, carrying with it a sense of meritorious righteousness in response to the law. The Greeks considered themselves righteous in accord with social law, by being "civil"; The Romans considered themselves righteous in conformity to Roman law; Jewish thought regarded righteousness as conformity with God's revealed law.
Paul's primary emphasis is to establish that righteousness is not based on our performance of conformity to external legal criteria.
Righteousness is first and foremost, an attribute of God. God is the "Righteous Father" (Jn 17:25). Jesus is referred to as "Jesus Christ the righteous." (I Jn 2:1). Righteousness is never an inherent attribute of man. Righteousness is always an expression of the divine activity in accord with the righteous character of God.
Righteousness is not something that we as mankind ever "own", or possess, or manifest in and of ourselves. There is none righteous (Rom. 3:20). That is why Luther called it "alien righteousness." Seebass -Dictionary of New Testament Theology - "It is not we who possess righteousness, but righteousness which possesses us." Righteousness is personified in God in Christ.
Righteousness is not a result of man's performance. Much of what Paul writes is a polemic against "righteousness according to the works of the Law." Paul takes the concept of righteousness, the dynamic grace expression of God's character of righteousness, and turns it against the legal conceptions of his day, specifically Judaistic legalism. Yet even in the apostolic fathers, righteousness has been cast in the context of a "new law", a "Christian law". By the fourth century with the amalgamation of the church with the Roman empire, the concepts of Roman law continued to "bleed" into Christian theology, to the extent that "righteousness" came to mean a "right standing" with the so-called divine Roman church, which could be purchased legally.
Martin Luther rightly and adamantly reacted to such a righteousness by works of church law, and the Protestant Reformation rallied around the theme of "justification by faith". But the reformers (or their immediate followers) failed to kick over the whole underlying presupposition of legal, forensic, judicial basis of righteousness, insisting on merely "declared righteous"
The reformers, in their polemic protest against Roman Catholicism and their works righteousness according to "church law", insisted on leaving no room for meritorious performance righteousness. Nothing man can do to be righteous; only on the basis of what Christ has done. So they had a very focused emphasis on the "finished work" of Christ the historical, the theological, the legal and logical implications of what Christ did on our behalf vicariously. They did not want to allow for even a "crack" of possibility that man's behavior had any merit before God in deeming a man righteous. Their teaching was Biblically solid. They were reacting against the Catholic doctrine of "infused graced" or "infused righteousness" which tended to make a Christian's behavioral righteousness at least a secondary basis of being "right with God." The reformers wanted no part of that- it smacked of "works." So they emphasized what Christ did as us vicariously, and they emphasized what Christ did for us, redemptively, -but they backed off from clear explanation of what Scripture says about what Christ does in us and through us - and Protestant theology has followed their example for over 400 years.
Protestant theology, in general, has been paranoid that any discussion of behavioral righteousness in Christians will somehow lead back to "performance righteousness" "works"! In fact, they have been as paranoid as Luther was of the book of James. They have over-protected the idea of the "alien-righteousness" of Christ, and thus rejected by their neglect the personal and behavioral implications of righteous living. The over-emphasis of judicial or forensic righteousness by Protestant theologians, has even caused some more recent Roman Catholic theologians to chide the Protestants, saying that if righteous behavior were ever exhibited in a protestant Christian, then some Protestant theologians would necessarily conclude that such was legalistic "works".
So as not to unduly impinge upon the reformers of the 16th century: Luther - "Justification is the declaring righteous for His sake, which is followed by a real making righteous. ...to reckon as righteous must not be understood as an opposition of 'to make righteous', for to be justified without merits in the sense of 'to forgive' is at the same time the beginning of a new life." Calvin: "We dream not of a faith which is devoid of good works, nor of a justification which can exist without them. ... You cannot possess Him (Christ) without being made a partaker of His sanctification; for Christ cannot be divided. Christ has been given to us for justification and for sanctification."
T.F. Torrance - Theology in Reconstruction -
The experiential, behavioral factors of righteousness have been overlooked in mainline protestant theology. We have missed the dynamic of the righteous character of God being lived out in His people to His glory. It is imperative that we understand that Christians have been made righteous by the presence of Jesus Christ, the Righteous.
Robert D. Brinsmead - "The Dynamic, Ongoing Nature of Justification by Faith"; "Present Truth" periodical, 6/75 -
T.F. Torrance - Space, Time and Resurrection -
What we need is a new reformation, which will take the subject of justification or righteousness all the way back to Biblical understanding. A complete restoration of the dynamic restorative process of righteousness by the Righteous One, Jesus Christ.
David F. Wells, The Search for Salvation,
Foerster, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, (Kittel's) - root words from which sozo and soterion are derived mean "to make safe."
Salvation. To make safe from what? Not to make safe from erroneous thinking by understanding your "erroneous zones". Not to make safe from economic and/or political oppressors (liberation theology).
Perhaps the most popular conception is that we are made safe from going to hell. And yet, the objective of Christian salvation is surely more than just an escapist incentive for the acquisition of an everlasting "fire insurance policy."
Salvation has to do with being made safe from misused humanity, dysfunctional humanity, in order to be restored to the functional humanity God intends by the presence of the functional dynamic of God in man by His Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
We are being saved unto full participation in the risen, ascended Life of the Lord Jesus Christ, by the dynamic of God's Spirit.
We are being saved unto the purpose of our creation and existence in glorifying God. (Isa. 43:7)
We must be painfully honest in reappraising our popular misconceptions of salvation in evangelical theology today.
Several years ago. "I FOUND IT" campaign of Campus Crusade. What is the IT they were claiming to have found? Salvation? Eternal Life? The implication is that "salvation" is an IT; something, rather than Someone. Such is sloppy salvation terminology!
We need to understand a dynamic restorative and functional salvation process - Not just preventative salvation. Not just acquisitional salvation (the acquiring of spiritual benefits.) Salvation is not a "benefit" dispensed by a "benefactor." Yet Darrel L. Bock (Bibliotheca Sacra - Apr. June, 1986), "Jesus as Lord is the divine dispenser of salvation"..."Jesus is the dispenser of divine salvation and forgiveness." Such is a separated concept that separates salvation from the Savior, and creates a static view of salvation. Jesus does not dispense salvation like a bubble-gum dispenser; He does not dispense salvation like an airline ticket dispenser; Jesus is not like a medical dispensary dispensing the "gos-pill". Salvation is only in the dynamic activity of the Savior. Jesus Christ is salvation.
Salvation is not an entity, a commodity, a "package", a spiritual "goody"; Salvation is not a heavenly entrance pass, a ticket to heaven, an eternal life package. Salvation is not a "possession in my pocket'.
Evangelical theology has swung from a God-centered theology to a man-centered theology, and has wrenched "salvation" from the grace-activity of God, placing it into the hands of men, to be manipulated by men (or so they think).
When we use the phrase "got saved", it has static connotations of an event in time, a transaction, a static state of being.
Conrad Murrell, Salvation When?
Salvation is the dynamic functioning of the Person of Jesus Christ within us, the restorative activity of the Savior.
Modern theology has reduced salvation to depersonalized formulas, static arguments of the length of one's ordo salutis.
J.S. Stewart - A Man in Christ ,
W.L. Liefeld, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (revised)-
Salvation is a process not a process of accumulating "good works" as in the cultic sense of salvation process, but the process by which God's dynamic grace is continuously applied to our lives, in the "saving life of Christ." Salvation is the dynamic process of the work of the Savior in His people
This central reality of the functional dynamic of all things in the person and work of Jesus Christ, Himself, is the truth that is so often obliterated and obfuscated,...as the natural propensity of man is to reduce Christianity into a manageable religious belief-system.
Karl Paul Donfried - The Dynamic Word -
T.F. Torrance - Reality and Evangelical Theology -
The story is told that when Ghatama Buddha
was dying (over four hundred years prior to the time of Christ),
some of his disciples asked how they could best remember him.
He told them not to bother; that it was his teaching, not his
person, that mattered. Such is the basis of religion - ideological,
philosophical, educative belief-systems. Such is not the case
with Jesus Christ and Christianity. Everything centers in Him.
Everything is inherent in Jesus, His Person and His continuing
activity. Everything functions only by the dynamic of the risen
and living Lord Jesus Christ.