Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Theology for God's Subversive Counter-Revolutionary Movement

1.    The God

The Christian faith is founded on two truths. Both are mysteries, that is, truths we cannot figure out or discover for ourselves not matter how much time, information, and insight we might have. These two truths, realities, mysteries revealed in the Bible are that God is not a singular being. God is one but differentiated within himself. In theological terms, the Christian God is triune, three-in-one. The how-this-can-be question cannot, of course, be explained but only described. Remember, we are dealing with matters beyond human understanding or imagination. That’s why this revelation of the triune nature of God makes the Christian view of Go utterly unique among world religions.

1.1        God is not like a Billiard Ball but like a Molecule

A billiard ball is a complete and self-sufficient entity by itself. It needs nothing else to make it what it is. All its interactions with other balls or the rails of the table are external to what it is.

The Bible’s God is, as noted, different. While one, God is self-differentiated. That is, the one God is always and at the same time the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.[1] A molecule is a better way to picture the triune God of Christian faith. “Molecules are made up of atoms that are held together by chemical bonds. These bonds form as a result of the sharing or exchange of electrons among atoms.”[2]

An oft-used diagram of the trinity is similar to this design: 

A molecule illustrates the differentiation within an entity though it fails, as do all illustrations of the trinity, to capture the oneness that the trinity diagram does. Nevertheless, I believe it is a helpful image to keep in mind in tandem with the billiard ball image given that the default image of God in our culture is largely that of the billiard ball.

That’s about as far as we can go in describing the nature of the God of the Bible. Let’s look next at its significance.                                                        

1.2        What Difference Does It Make That God Is Triune?

“God is love” (1 Jn.4:8). The triune God of Christianity is a fellowship or communion of love. The Father loves the Son, the Son returns the love of the Father, and the Spirit is the love the Father and Son share. God cannot, then, be a billiard ball kind of deity. For love is a relationship between persons. It is other-directed. Love is about communication, communion, and community. None of which is possible if God is a billiard ball. Sufficient and complete in and of himself, he cannot be love or love. The only “person” such a God could love is himself. And we don’t call that love; we call it narcissism.

God’s nature as triune also makes it possible for us to experience and believe that God is indeed love. Think about it like this. You are in desperate trouble. Mortal trouble. Trouble you cannot get yourself out of. God claims that he loves you to the uttermost and will himself to do everything necessary for your rescue. But then he sends someone else to do and endure the dirty work of actually setting you free. Unless that someone else is also somehow God, then God is not love. He has not come himself as love requires and as he said he would.

Such a billiard ball deity, lacking his own experience of communication, communion, and community, cannot offer this to us either. The only relationship we can have with such a God is external, creature to Creator. Based in obligation and duty, obedience is the way the creature keeps him or herself right with the Creator. Thus we are locked into a legalistic moralism from the beginning.

Fortunately, the God we meet in the Bible is defined by love. Communication, communion, and community are who he is. He can and does, therefore, offer them to us in offering himself to reclaim and restore us to life in him.

The billiard ball deity cannot but be, to us sinners, what I call a “God with a Scowl.” One whose disposition toward us is performance based and punishment-focused. Fear is the default response to such a God. A molecule-like God, which we have claimed the biblical God is, offers love and life to his creatures in all that he does. Our sin does not put him off but catalyzes overtures for reclaiming and restoring his creatures to what he always intended for them.  

The difference seeing God as triune makes is that we can be certain that in all things the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are reaching out to us in ways too numerous to count in the interest of the full flourishing of his creatures and creation.[3] This leads us to consider God as missionary in the next section.

1.3        A Missionary God 

“God is love” (1 Jn.4:8). Given that love is other-directed always seeking and acting for the good of those loved, God can be nothing other than a missionary God. In creation God made something and someone other than himself to share love and life with forever on his good creation. God always intended to come and be with his creatures. Even to the point of becoming one of them. The Son was always coming in the flesh as the fulfilment of God’s desire and purpose to be with his creatures in as profound a way as possible. Thus, the Father intends to “send” the Son to his creatures while the Son is “sent” by the Father to them in the power of the Spirit. This sending and sent God is what I mean by a missionary God.

Even after humanity revolted against him God never acquiesced in that revolution. No, God’s response to this heinous ingratitude and arrogance is to keep seeking his creatures and sending them a way to be reconciled and restored to him. These are the chief benchmarks of the biblical story as well as the strategy of the triune God in achieving his ultimate purposes.

-The people of Abraham and Sarah, eventually Israel, were this way,

-Covenants initiated and guaranteed by God established this family among all the families of earth as the one which bears the destiny of the whole human family.

-The Kingdom of God established God’s authority and power over all the nations of the earth.

-The Temple pointed to that ultimate fulfilment of God’s creational dream – his presence with his people in loving communication, communion, and community.

The Father sends the Son and, through him, the Spirit to earth. The Spirit in turn sends Abraham’s people, Israel and the church, into the world. The church, in the power of the Spirit, then equips and sends its members into the world of their daily lives as witnesses to God’s love.  

Thus God’s whole plan is missionary through and through. He himself is a missionary (sending and sent) God as he is a God of love. His people (Israel and the church) are a missionary (sent and sending) people who send their members into the nitty gritty of everyday life to serve God. From the macro (the whole cosmos) to the micro (the individual believer) all God’s purposes, plans, and people are missionary.[4]

A missionary triune God who is always and in everything love – that’s the Christian God.[5]

1.4        A Subversive Counter-Revolutionary God

All this means that our missionary triune God is a subversive counter-revolutionary God. By that I mean that the Christian God is the God who sponsors what C. S. Lewis called a “great campaign of sabotage.” That’s because, again according to Lewis, we live in “Enemy-occupied territory---that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.”[6]

This “campaign of sabotage” reached its climax and definitive expression in Jesus Christ but it began much earlier. Immediately after humanity revolted against God in fact. God’s passion and activity after that revolt turned subversive and counter-revolutionary[7].  

-subversive: to undermine and counteract the way of life sin inscribed in his creation through “yeast”-like penetration of lives through relationships.

-counter-revolutionary: to contest this sinful way of life as it is embodied in the patterns, systems, and institutions of the world through acts of peace-making and justice.

His world now filled with all sorts of violence, oppression, and injustice, those theologians are right who claim that God has a “preferential option for the poor.” This means that in seeking for justice and right relationships at every level of society God takes the side of those damaged and kept down by the privileged and powerful. This divine taking of sides is in the interest of the freedom and salvation of all, both oppressed and oppressor alike. Both are locked into a losing struggle for all involved. By making the plight of the poor and needy his own, God highlights this struggle and the direction its resolution must take.

So God, the Bible’s God, is a subversive and counter-revolutionary God as he acts in a world fallen catastrophically away from his good design and intention. As we will see now, his people will follow suit as they serve him in that same world.

[1] A Declaration of Faith, Presbyterian Church U.S.A. ch.5 ll.125-26.
[3] “We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom.8:28 CEB). Though “all things” are not good, God is at work in them to accomplish his good purposes for us.
[4] My ebook The Purpose, the Plan, and the People:  Why the Gospel is Bigger and Better than We Ever Imagined spells this out in more detail.
[5] I have discussed love, life, communication, communion, and community here are characteristics of God. The Bible tells us much about God and we will discover them along the way in my exposition. Those taken up here are, in my judgment, paramount to the Bible’s portrait of God.
[6] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity ……
[7] The terms subversive and counter-revolutionary usually (though not necessarily) signal opposing political perspectives (liberal and conservative respectively). I pair them in my formulation to suggest that I am not promoting a partisan perspective. I believe a biblical perspective will be eclectic and out-of-the-box rather than predictably doctrinaire.

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