Faith: The Engine of God’s Creative Redemption

Faith: The Engine of God’s Creative Redemption

By Steven Hovater

Incarnation and Imitation

The incarnation revealed what is possible when a human moves in God’s will, and by God’s power. In Jesus, God acted, but also demonstrated what human action in the name of God looks like. “For I have set you an example, “Jesus says, “that you also should do as I have done to you”. Yes, this line’s context (John 13:15) is somewhat particular to his servant gesture of foot-washing, but the following discourse makes clear that this practice is barely the tip of the iceberg. Everything Jesus does and says is a demonstration of God’s work and will in the world, and the disciples are being invited to share in that way of being in the world. The point of the incarnation is to say, “This is what happens when divine action/being meets human action/being.”

Moments later, Jesus expresses to his disciples that they have perceived God’s will as revealed through Jesus’s words and actions, and have even had their status before God changed because of it: “The servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father” (John 15:15). Jesus is revealing God’s will and work, and then inviting them to join into that same will and work, becoming fruitful by honoring his command to “love one another as I have loved you.” God is at work among humanity in the human form of Jesus, so that humanity might be able to learn how to work on behalf of God in the world. 

What’s Faith Got to Do with It?

This is all well and good as a bunch of theological talk, but is still missing a critical piece: faith. This all occurs in its context in a crisis moment, and the disciples will forget their loyalty to Jesus before we can scarcely turn the page on the conversation. However, before their abandonment, we get a preview of what will come to pass after the resurrection. It is yet to be tested by the crucible, but we get a taste of the faith that will be solidified when the disciples witness his defeat of death. In John 16:30 we read the climatic confession, “we believe that you came from God”. That curiously-worded affirmation of faith is more central to John’s gospel than is easily recognized. 

“We believe that you came from God” sounds like a basic thing to affirm about Jesus, but for John’s gospel it is the critical point. Everything up until chapter 12 has been constructed to demonstrate that Jesus is in fact the one sent from God. It’s a theme hiding in plain sight, captured in language like being “from God” or “from heaven”, or in Jesus’s talk about being “sent”. The fascinating turn of the fourth gospel is that it takes this basic affirmation of Jesus’s origin and uses it to launch the mission of the disciples. Just as the father sent Jesus, so Jesus sends his disciples (20:21), and when they are doing the will of God, they have access to the same divine power that Jesus put on display. What’s the connection between what Jesus did and what the sent disciples will do? Their faith

In coming to believe that Jesus is from God, the disciples also come to believe his invitation to share in his divinely originating power and mission. They too become “from God” because now they are “from Jesus”. John tipped his hand early on that this was God’s work in Jesus: “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13) In the wake of the resurrection, the disciples can truly become brothers of Jesus, sharing the same Father and God (20:17).

The Victory of Faith

There’s an old church song, “Faith is the Victory” which draws its language from 1 John 5:4-5, “…this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” The song implies that the victory is one that we, Christ’s disciples win over our enemies. However, the greater truth is that it is Jesus who becomes victorious over his enemies because of our faith. See, we may not have noticed the connection between this text (1 John 5) and John 16:33, where Jesus says to his disciples: “Take courage; I have conquered the world!”. Notice how the announcement is peculiarly located—Jesus proclaims his victory before the events of either the cross or the empty tomb. What has happened at this point that evokes this claim? It is the confession of faith from the disciples—this constitutes Jesus’s victory over the world!

Now that they believe—or perhaps better, now that they are coming to believe—Jesus has won a foothold in the world. God’s work will continue. The gospel embodied in him will be embodied in his disciples who now participate in his mission. Jesus, the Sent One, will become the sender, and the faith of his disciples will become a gateway for the power of God to work goodness in the world. 

Our faith is much more powerful than we know. It is not just a vehicle for our comfort or empowerment. It is a vehicle for divine action. It is the connection point at which God’s people become partners by God’s Spirit, agents of God’s creative agenda in the world. Faith is the engine translating God’s will into human action and the restoration of God’s creation. 

It is easy to underestimate our faith. I often perceive mine to be quite a weak thing—apparently much smaller than even a mustard seed. But in the hands of Jesus, even our broken faith creates enormous possibilities, and becomes a tool in God’s mission. 

(If you would like to walk through a study of the “Sent” theme in John, consider the following texts in their context: 1:12-13, 3:2, 3:13, 3:17, 3:31-34, 4:34, 5:23-24, 5:36-38, 6:33, 6:46, 6:57, 7:27-29, 8:14-16, 8:23-26, 8:42, 9:4, 9:29-33, 10:36, 11:27, 12:44-45, 13:3, 14:24, 15:21, 16:27-30, 17:8, 18:36-37, 19:9, 20:21. This list is not exhaustive, and perhaps the better approach is to simply take a highlighter to a fresh copy of the gospel and mark each time the theme shows up. I assure you, you will not have to travel long between occurrences! I would love to say that the theme is plainly stated in literally every chapter of John, but alas, chapter 2 only yields 2:9, which I hold to be playful language on the theme—but I’ll let you decide for yourself.) 

Steven Hovater: Four kids. One wife. Seventeen hobbies. A coach’s whistle. Lots of thoughts about God and food. The spiritual gift of volume. Blogs at stevenhovater.com, and preaches in Tullahoma, Tennessee.

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A Case Study: The Rivers Church

A Case Study: The Rivers Church by Ginger Moore

My husband, Mike walked down Maiden Alley toward the Ohio River with his young friend. As he walked with his arm around twelve-year old DeShawn he asked, “DeShawn, when Jesus was on trial, Pilate kept asking if he was a King? Jesus told him, ‘My kingdom is not of this world’, but finally admitted he is the King. That’s what I’m going to ask you. Do you believe Jesus is the King?” DeShawn answered, “Yes, Mr. Mike. I do.” They continued to walk down to the bank of the Ohio River. About 40 people from The Rivers Church followed them.

Mike and DeShawn stood right at the edge of the river and Mike asked the young man if he was ready for Jesus to be King of his life? This is a kid that only a year and a half before was so rude and disrespectful that he would often be sent home from our Tuesday night outreach ministry and here he stood in the Ohio River ready to put on Christ. DeShawn came up out of that water to applause and tears from a church family that is a glimpse of what heaven is going to look like.

The Rivers Church began on Sunday, December 18th at 10:02 a.m. at Maiden Alley Cinema in Paducah, Kentucky, a half block from where the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers converge. From its outset, it has been our goal to be racially integrated, ethnically diverse, and outreach focused. Nones, Dones, and the next generation are our targets. Our ministry team spent time praying, talking, studying, and then praying some more about the vision for a church that could open doors for all people to hear the gospel in a post Christian culture.

Why 10:02 a.m.? Our gathering time is based on Luke 10:2- “…The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers.” At The Rivers Church, we’ve based our lives on the truth of the gospel — we know that the gospel is the best message in town that everyone needs to hear but Christians have made it harder and harder for people to hear the message because we’ve often lost our focus. We are convinced that if we go to where the people are, like Jesus said, and if we love them and love each other, then the gospel will do the rest.

Only God could have assembled the ministry team at The Rivers Church. This is what we’ve got- My husband Mike Moore is a trial attorney and was an elder for 5 years at an old established wealthy church. He also is a fantastic preacher. (I know I’m a little biased.)

Rivers Church Ministry Team

Tyrell Grant is a former rap producer drug dealer who became a Christian and quickly decided he wanted to be an evangelist. He went to school and got a preaching degree. His wife, Marquita is a preacher’s kid with an early childhood degree who leads our children’s ministry.

Cornelius Edwards is a wonderfully gifted worship minister. Before he joined our work he traveled from his home base in Atlanta all over the country to lead worship at special events. Check out his music on iTunes and YouTube. His wife Soyini has an awesome voice as well and was willing to leave her job at CNN because she believed in this vision of what church could be. She has an innate sense as to what people need and ministers to many already!

Lyle Sinkey is a former meth addict who is an outdoorsman and preacher. He just finished up a contract with Duck Commander where he was a videographer. He and his wife Kelly joined our team to minister in the areas of addiction recovery and marriage.

Finally, there’s me. I’m a former homeschooling mom and wife who was raised going to church. I lead our women’s ministry and make some pretty delicious communion bread.

The Rivers Church is a group of believers that are trying to live with our faith unshackled. Only Cornelius is a paid staff member. Soyini recently started her own business. Lyle and Kelly are raising their support like U.S. missionaries. Mike maintains a full law practice and I’m his office manager. Tyrell and Marquita run a daycare and Tyrell is also a blogger/tech guy.

We don’t have a building and it is our intention to never have one. Our rent at the theatre annually is the equivalent of one month’s utility bills at our former church. We’re trying to keep it simple. We use Mike’s Law office for small group Bible studies offered to the community. Tyrell and Marquita lead a small group in their home weekly. We have an outreach ministry that ministers to low income at risk children that meets at a shelter at the park. All of our gatherings are intergenerational. Families serve together. We’ve worshipped at the Farmer’s Market pavilion and will have worship this fall right at the river.

Martin Luther King Jr. said this in Letter From Birmingham Jail, “If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.”

Mr. King spoke truth in 1963 and it is even more true in 2017. Young people don’t care what you know about Jesus until they see how you love like Jesus. My teenaged daughters invited their seventeen year old friend to worship with us. When worship was over, I asked her what she thought. Her answer let me know that we are headed in the right direction. She said with lots of excitement, “I love this! At the end, I just felt like I needed to go around the room and hug everyone. You can feel the love.”

I think we’re on the right path.

Follow us on Social Media Contacts at:  
Facebook: The Rivers Church @TheRiversPaducah 
Instagram: theriverschurch 
Website: www.theriverschurch.org

Ginger Moore is a 47 year old reluctant church planter, who just celebrated her 25th wedding anniversary.  She’s the mom of a 17 year old daughter and an 18 year old daughter who are so proud and excited to be a part of the work.  Her theme verse for the year has been 2 Timothy 2:13- “When we are faithless, he is faithful for he can not deny himself.”  God has been so very good and faithful as we have planted this church and he has brought the increase. 

Prayer Inside Out

SummerBlogTour

Note: The Summer Blog Tour is nearly over. This is the last entry… the others participating in the tour have already posted it, but I saved mine for last at this location. HERE is a post with links to all of them, in case you missed some. Thanks to those who read along. Reading different writers can be challenging but I think enriching.  As always, thanks for reading. JD


Prayer Inside Out

The end of the world is coming soon. Therefore, be earnest and disciplined in your prayers. – 1 Peter 4:7 (NLT)

The end and culmination of all things is near. Therefore, be sound-minded and self-controlled for the purpose of prayer [staying balanced and focused on the things of God so that your communication will be clear, reasonable, specific and pleasing to Him.] – 1 Peter 4:7 (AMP)

People who believe the Bible to be inspired have trusted that the end of the world is coming, but it’s been coming for a very long time. But even people who are not too keen on the Bible might look around at our world today and consider that the world might be making it’s way swiftly to the end. The number of nuclear nations grows and as it does there are less reliable hands in control. Crime and war and disease and all manner of issues threaten our planet. Those who are always looking for a ‘sign’ are aware that there is no shortage of signs.

I don’t know what Peter’s original readers thought about his intense descriptions about the end of the world, but none of them lived to see it. What they did see, though, was an end to THEIR worlds through persecution that scattered them and anger towards the Christian community that scandalized them. Whether the end of planet earth is close enough to happen in our lifetime or whether our personal ‘world’ is potentially going to shatter, the answer is to grow in our prayer life.

Prayer shouldn’t come from the outside in. I think that’s what has people turned off about prayer sometimes. They have to sit through the prayers that do not seem to have much to do with them. At times we repeat memorized prayers quickly and without much connection … emotion … and we wonder why we pray.

Prayer needs to come from the inside out. It needs to be earnest. Prayer that comes from the inside out expresses the intentions of our heart because it comes from the heart. We talk to God about the things that really matter to us. Earnest prayer is not concerned with form or vocabulary. It is more intense because it is more intentional. We pray these prayers most easily when we are forced into a corner by a loss of financial security or the loss of someone we love. We pray from the heart when our friend is hospitalized and we wonder if they will make it. There are situations in life that we face that move us to the earnest prayers God seeks. That’s where we ought to try to live in our prayer life. That takes another quality. Discipline.

Discipline is really the harder part. Praying with discipline might involve praying consistently. Who of us hasn’t had a hard time being consistent in our prayer life? Has anyone else bought a new prayer journal determined to really dig in but you can’t locate it right now and if you could you know there isn’t a single word in it? Can I get a witness? Discipline might also relate to concentration. Using our prayer time to compose ‘to do’ lists for the day is not what I call a powerful prayer time. But it might describe my prayer life sometimes.

Earnest and disciplined … Peter says that’s how we ought to pray because the world is coming down around our ears. We’re much too jaded to believe this, so our prayers go on either dry and boring or light and easy. Since this kind of prayer relates to our inward attitudes and thoughts about prayer, here are some ideas to move us toward the kind of prayer God desires:

1. Remember Confession. In the prayer acrostic ACTSS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication, Submission) confession comes on the heels of praise. When we consider our lives in contrast to the Holy God we serve, confession should come easy…but it doesn’t always. If we want to skip confession we also want to skip the element of our prayers that drives us to a more earnest spirit.

2. Remember Compassion. Many of us keep up with prayer lists for others. These can grow quite large because of the volume of requests we may see on Facebook or other social media. In which case we are often praying for people we’ve never met in places we’ll never go and for whom we’ll never have an update. Nothing wrong with that, but keep your closest friends and acquaintances in a separate list. When you consider their needs – and in this list you likely know the current needs – practice empathy and imagine what they might need from the Lord. This seems like a good way to tap into earnestness.

3. Remember Consistency. There are probably no real tricks when it comes to a consistent prayer life. An advertising slogan says ‘Just Do It’. You can set reminders, pray in the same place every day, develop routines that you don’t want to break. I don’t know why it is that we never have trouble remembering to eat at noontime or keep other rituals, but establishing the routine to pray seems more difficult. I think there are many habits that we can do without mental engagement, passion, earnestness … but praying isn’t one of them. At least a lively prayer life isn’t one of those things. Someone smarter than me will have to tell us why we resist such a beautiful gift as spending time with our Abba… why we’re so easily distracted…. why we fall out of prayer patterns so easily. I think the word ‘discipline’ that Peter uses may reveal something. We can be an undisciplined bunch sometimes.

Prayer that comes from the inside out is prayer that is earnest and disciplined. It’s the kind of prayer that our Father desires, but it is also the kind of prayer that keeps us coming back for more. It satisfies our soul … the deepest part of who we are in Christ.

_______________________

John Dobbs and his wife Maggy live in Monroe, Louisiana. He is the minister for the Forsythe Avenue Church of Christ. He is often distracted from an earnest and disciplined prayer life by social media. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@johndobbs) and his blog at http://johndobbs.com.

In Case You Missed It…

SummerBlogTour (12)

There’s been a great series of guest writers on the blog this summer. Each one offered something really thought provoking, encouraging, or helpful. I hope you read each one. More – I hope you connected with the blogs of these great writers so you can read more of what they have to say and think. Below are the links to the posts on my blog … each one of the bloggers also posted each one of the articles on their blogs. Hope you’ve enjoyed getting to know these special Christian writers … I value them as contributing something vital to the Kingdom with their words. Special thanks to Peter Horne… this was his brainchild! Thanks Pita! Thanks also to Tim Archer who offered his new book in a drawing throughout this series. 


Inside Out by Peter Horne. Peter’s blog is located HERE.

Church Inside Out by Tim Archer. Tim’s blog is located HERE

Experiencing Miracles Inside Out by Jennifer Rundlett. Jennifer’s blog is HERE

Transformation From the Inside Out by Ryan Lassiter. Ryan’s blog is HERE

Service Inside Out by Holly Barrett. Holly’s blog is HERE

Seeing Inside Out by Peter Horne. Peter’s blog is HERE.

Marriage Inside Out by Richard May. Richard’s blog is HERE

Simplicity Inside Out by Scott Elliott. Scott’s blog is HERE.

The Gospel Inside Out by Brandon Fredenburg. 

Missional Inside Out by Steven Hovater. Steven’s blog is HERE.

Prayer Inside Out by John Dobbs.

Hope you enjoyed the series as much as I did. Thanks for reading. JD

MISSIONAL From the Inside Out – Steven Hovater

SummerBlogTour (13)

Note: This Summer I’m a part of a ‘Summer Blog Tour’. This Summer participants will be posting a series of writings as guest posts on the theme “Inside Out”. If you like them, please share them in social media. There is a book give-a-way associated with the tour, so go HERE for details. Now on to the next entry in the series … some thoughts on service by the outreaching Steven Hovater. As always, thanks for reading. JD


MISSIONAL From The Inside Out

The word “missional” has been terribly abused in its first couple of decades of wide circulation. Theologically, the word simply describes God’s ongoing work in the world—and the church that intentionally participates in that work. There are multiple of facets to that work and our participation in it, and perhaps this explains why the word has been stretched around so many different kinds of churches or styles of discipleship. We understand ourselves to be participating in God’s mission as we spread the news of Jesus’s redemptive work in our community and around the globe, as we encourage each other to follow Jesus, and as we pursue the conditions of justice, righteousness and peace. None of these the full breadth of what God wants for this world, but in each of them we engage with values near to the heart of God!

Our churches pursue each facet collectively, working together for the purposes of evangelization, transformation, and justice—and churches can implement structural shifts to facilitate progress in each cause. We can create systems that create opportunities for faith sharing, venues in which transformation is more likely to occur, and initiatives that push against standing systems of injustice. Whether we’re the leaders fashioning the new programs or congregants supporting and participating in the moves, we can too easily begin to think that the structural changes mark us as “missional”. However, those structural shifts can only move us so far! Church programming and structure may create the conditions in which we move towards mission, and poor structures can get in the way of such practices or implicitly devalue them. Structure has its place, and should be approached with intentionality. However, creating the structures should not be understood as the heart of the work itself—the work itself is a matter of flesh, blood and spirit.

Flesh, Blood, and Spirit

The missional work of evangelization occurs when flesh and blood humans filled with the spirit of God reach out to their known and loved neighbors with the good news of Jesus. The missional work of discipleship takes place when people of flesh and blood, acting by the power of God’s spirit, encourage and teach each other about the way of Jesus, giving testimony of Jesus’s work. Justice progresses as spirit-driven people stand in solidarity with the oppressed, whom they have come to see and love because of their transformation in Christ. The heart of missional christianity isn’t a matter of organization, but of embodiment. While the church’s programming might provide the sort of vehicle or venue in which these things happen, the structure itself won’t succeed until it is filled by the right kind of transformed people—the new humanity, formed from the inside out for the purposes of God’s mission in the world. That formation takes places when we, both as communities and as individuals, nurture the sorts of mentalities and habits that encourage people to align with the mission of God and to engage in it.

The inventory of those mentalities and habits is surely diverse and contains some familiar things, like the virtues of faith, hope, and love that the church has long sought to nurture, and the habits of prayer and listening to the word that have been a part of both the gatherings of God’s people and the classical understandings of their individual devotional practices. These are well and good, and contribute to our transformation into people aligned with the mission of God, but I want to suggest a further practice, one that I see both in the life of the early church and in the missional movement of our own time: the nurture of a particular obsession.

Obsessed with the Missio Dei

The Missio Dei is a fancy latin phrase meaning “the mission of God”. It’s a bit of shorthand meant to point us towards what God is doing in the world—something we train ourselves to discover by drinking deeply of God’s story in the scriptures, and which we prayerfully seek by the spirit of God in our own time. Becoming obsessed with the Missio Dei means that at every turn in our lives, we are always asking, “What might God want to happen here?” or “How can I join in what God might be working towards by what I say and do in this moment?”.

These are the sorts of questions the early church obsessed over. Missional churches have these questions embedded in their culture, whether or not they ever use the fancy latin phrase or have super-sophisticated “missional” structures. Missional people can’t help but ask what God wants in the world, and how they can bear witness to God’s desires and God’s work towards fulfilling those intentions. Each encounter with the word, each gathering with the church, and every moment in the neighborhood is an opportunity to deepen our understanding of God’s mission in the world. That obsession is planted deep within our hearts, and keeps gnawing at our souls. Like a deep mystery, it holds us in vigilant tension, so that every moment we are ready to perceive the clues that might shed light on what God is really at work doing. The seed of that obsession grows from the inside out, until its fruit becomes apparent in the world. It is an internal drive that fuels every external step we take.


HovaterrSteven Hovater is the preaching and outreach minister at the Church of Christ at Cedar Lane in Tullahoma, Tennessee. He loves walking slow with his wife Kelly and running fast with their four kids. Occasionally, he blogs at stevenhovater.com., and loves interacting with people on twitter (@stevenhovater).

The Gospel Inside Out – Brandon Fredenburg

SummerBlogTour (11)
Note: This Summer I’m a part of a ‘Summer Blog Tour’. This Summer participants will be posting a series of writings as guest posts on the theme “Inside Out”. If you like them, please share them in social media. There is a book give-a-way associated with the tour, so go HERE for details. Now on to the next entry in the series … some thoughts on service by the insightful and scholarly Brandon Fredenburg. As always, thanks for reading. JD


The Gospel Inside Out by Brandon L. Fredenburg

I’m afraid the title is more ambitious than my few paragraphs offer. To make my task more manageable, I offer a few idea-starters about the gospel as taught by Jesus, Paul, and the early church bishop, Athanasius.

The Gospel Jesus Taught
In contrast to Matthew’s and Mark’s summary of Jesus’s “gospel of God” (Mark 1:14), Luke 4:18–19 depicts Jesus preaching selectively from Isaiah 61:1–2:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to evangelize the poor. He has sent me to declare liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the broke(n) with a full release, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (my translation).

When Jesus omits “and the day of our God’s vengeance” (Isa 61:2b) and rehearses God’s blessing of a foreign widow and an enemy general, he turns the gospel of God his hearers expect inside out. “He isn’t just our God and he blesses our enemies,” Jesus reveals. Their reaction, like their “God,” is one of deadly vengeance.

Perhaps this is why Jesus begins his evangelizing with the word “repent.” Apparently, even John the Baptist missed it, as Matthew 11:1–15 makes clear. Jesus says those who even barely grasp his message have far greater insight than John. John’s gospel of violent, fiery judgment, it seems, put him at odds with Jesus’s view of the nature of the kingdom of the heavens. “Repent,” then, as Jesus uses it, retains its core meaning of “shift your paradigm” with reference to God and God’s kingdom. For John, repentance focused on the personal sacrifices required for holiness; for Jesus, repentance kept its eyes on the merciful nature of God toward all persons (Exod. 34:5–7; Jonah 4:2b). “For I delight in mercy but not sacrifice; and in knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hos. 6:6, my translation).

Jesus’s gospel is about his Father and his Father’s nature. The Father’s nature was so misunderstood, Jesus claims no one but he knows the Father (Matt. 11:27). He then immediately invites those wearied and burdened by compromised gospels of God to come to him for rest, to take on the easy, restful yoke of learning as a disciple of his gentle humility and light burden. “No one knows the Father except the Son”: not John the Baptist, not the Pharisees or the scribes, not Moses or Elijah, not Jesus’s disciples, no one except he … and his post-resurrection disciples. The Father is known rightly and fully only through his Son (Heb. 1:1–3b).

The Gospel Paul Taught
Jesus’s gospel reframed a self-serving view of his Father’s compassion; Paul’s gospel applied Jesus’s message more widely. Two passages are especially rich: 2 Cor. 5:11–21 and Eph. 2:1–10.

In 2 Cor. 5:14, Paul claims that Christ’s death universally incorporates humanity. In his death, all died. When this insight becomes clear, a whole new world comes into focus. Paul knows this from his own experience: before he embraced it, he viewed Jesus as a renegade false prophet whose death was just. Once the scales fell from Saul’s eyes, he saw the new creation. He no longer saw through Adam’s blind, fearful, ashamed, sin-focused eyes. Jesus Messiah incarnated into the old, blinded, fearful, ashamed, sin-wracked Adamic humanity, embraced it and us fully and carried it and us into Death. And by God’s own unilateral act of cosmic justice, Jesus (and it and us) were raised to newness.

Paul makes a parallel point in Ephesians 2, but goes farther. In 2:1–3, Paul sets the cosmic stage: we were all dead in our sins, naturally characterized by impulsive anger, like the rest of humanity. The “we” in 2:1–3 is undoubtedly all Adamic humanity. “But,” Paul contrasts, “God, being rich in mercy, because of his abundant love with which he loved us — even while we were dead in our sins — co-enlivened us with Christ: you are rescued by [God’s] favor!” Not only did we all die with Christ, God raised us all up and seated us all with Christ. This rescue from Death is anchored in God’s favor, accomplished by God’s faithfulness, given as unconditional gift, and integral to God’s (new) creation-act.

Paul extends Jesus’s gospel to include Jesus’s cooperation with the Father in rescuing Adamic humanity from its errant view of God and the self-caused alienation “in our own minds” (Col 1:21). The rescue for all humanity has been a fait accompli since Jesus’s resurrection. The message of what God has done in Christ is proclaimed so that, by awakening to its truth, all persons can dwell in the present blessings of the new creation.

The Gospel Athanasius Taught
Just as Paul authoritatively interpreted Jesus’s gospel in scripture, Athanasius’s views both reflected and influenced the understanding of the early church (ca. 200–400). In contrast, Augustine’s perspectives (post-400) dominated the Latin church and, through it, the Reformers and most of contemporary Evangelicalism.

In his On the Incarnation of the Word, Athanasius explains that humanity, brought to life out of nothing, maintained life by keeping a clear knowledge of God’s nature (i.e., the Logos) within them. Humanity’s existence depended on an uncompromised trust and dependence on God. Once the devil deceived humanity into mistrust, humanity cut itself off from its source of life and knowledge. Thus, by degrees, humanity not only lost its ability for clear reason, it began to disintegrate into physical death and, beyond that, into the corruption of utter nothingness; that is, into Death. Return to nothingness was not a God-imposed punishment, but a God-warned natural consequence of cutting our own umbilical cord.

It was both intolerable to and unworthy of God that he would do nothing to rescue those created in his own likeness, especially because they had been tricked by falsehood, and because a neglect to rescue them would demonstrate weakness. Thus, a rescue by the Logos that had created humanity was needed. The incarnated Logos fully incorporated all humanity into his own body, joining corruptible to incorruptible, and sacrificed himself (and us in him) to death to settle Death’s claim. Since Christ is the incorruptible Logos, Death could not contain him. By Christ’s death, Death died. Because we died his death and he ours, physical death is no punishment and Death-as-annihilation is no possibility. Moreover, once Death died, Christ then offered himself (and us in him) to the Father, who raised him as firstfruits and will raise us-in-him at the final resurrection.

The Gospel Inside Out
The gospel of God is not an invitation. It has no steps for us to climb to seek and gain God’s favor. It is not an offer that, by accepting, we activate its benefits. No, the gospel is far greater.

The gospel is the astounding declaration that, despite having gotten God all wrong in our thinking, having mischaracterized, misrepresented, maligned, mistreated, and had malice toward him, God has never been against us. To be sure, God has been against all our fearful, ignorant, misguided, vengeful characterizations of him and their effects, but he has endured them to be with us so that we might truly glimpse him and repent. He did not leave the glimpses to chance, but manifested himself entirely in the Lord Jesus Christ and the new creation life in which we participate. The basis of the gospel has always been God’s compassionate nature toward all creation; its benefits have always been active for all persons, but its enjoyment is possible only to those whose eyes see. Repent, and believe the gospel of God!

Peace and all good to all, always.


Brandon with two of his sons, Josh and John.
Brandon with two of his sons, Josh and John.

 

Brandon L. Fredenburg is a professor of Biblical Studies and assistant dean for the College of Biblical Studies and Behavioral Sciences at Lubbock Christian University. He lives, ministers, and teaches in Lubbock, Texas.