Saturday, January 19, 2008
Who could look more like the Viking of yore than the great Heimdall with that horned helmet. My Scandanavian travels taught me the horned helmet was myth for the Viking, but you have got to admit, it is way cool.
Heimdall is one of those omnipresent characters that has been grossly underdeveloped. Every time anybody goes to Asgard you encounter him, they usually say "Hey!" but what is his story? What does he do when not standing his post? Does he ever not stand his post? How does he keep that bridge so shiny?
These are just a few of the mysteries that surround this character, a character vital to every tale, but seeming insignificant. However, there have been times when he was called upon to do more than ceremonial duty, to hold fast the bridge against invaders, and he did so with strength that rivals even Thor.
Heimdall may indeed be the greatest Asgardian.
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Friday, January 18, 2008
Freedom and Legalism
But as Karl Barth points out near the end of his Commentary on Romans, those who trumpet their Christian freedom are often no stronger than the ‘weaker brothers’ whose legalism they abhor. Commenting on Romans 14:16-18, he writes:What strikes me about this discussion and many others on where we, or the church, go wrong, is our inability to deal with it all. We tend to focus on a specific problem, try to fix it and in the effort create other, sometimes bigger problems. In this instance we have a fight against legalism producing libertine problems. In other places we see a focus on one member of the Trinity excluding valuable action by the others. We see near worship of scripture rather than Who scripture describes. And so it goes....The strength of the strong is confronted by an iron barrier. We now stand before the krisis of what we think to be our freedom, of the freedom in which we rejoice as our good. But it is good only when it is the freedom of the Kingdom of God. Do we understand this? Is our freedom nothing but the freedom which God takes to Himself in our doing or in our not doing? Or is it a freedom which we take to ourselves in His name? Or do we perceive that our freedom is important only when it demonstrates His freedom? Or do we suppose our freedom to be in itself important? In displaying our strength, are we anxious that—righteousness and peace and joy should be made known unto men? Or are we, in fact, in the end concerned with—eating and drinking?
There is a deep and abiding lesson in this observation - we are limited, we are incapable, we are even unreliable. In sum, we are inadequate. It is our failure to realize, acknowledge, and act in presumption of this one essential fact that creates all the problems described here.
People do not want to hear about there inadequacies, that does not mean we are off the hook not telling them. It is, after Christ, the fundamental fact of our faith. It is slowly leaving our liturgy, well if you have a liturgy, it is leaving our preaching, it is leaving our very consciousness. And yet, look here at the consequences. They extend not just to personal behavior, they extend to thought, action, personal and corporate, and even into our theology. It changes the very face of who we are as Christians.
Matt and Randy have pointed out one of the great problems we face these days, and they have done so well. But we need to remember it is just a symptom. If we don't we will just find a whole new way to make a mess of things.
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After the new pastor had been there a few weeks, a member of the congregation offered to take then new pastor fishing. The vocal objector reluctantly agreed to allow them to use his boat and to go along.
The trio got into the boat and motored out on the lake. When they got ready to fish, they realized that all their tackle had been left on the dock. One of the men commented that he guess they would just have to go back and get it. The pastor said that wouldn't be necessary and she got out of the boat and started walking across the water toward the dock. The old grouch said, "See I told you we never should have hired that woman. She can't even swim."
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Thursday, January 17, 2008
Being A Mongrel
Dan's post is not a call to ecumenism, but it is a call to set aside much of the pettiness that marks much inter-denominational rhetoric. He is somewhat specific about my pet-peeve:
- From the Lutherans, I learned about Jesus (for the first time), grace, and the priesthood of all believers.
- From the Assemblies of God, I learned about the power of the Holy Spirit for service.
- From the Presbyterians, I learned about the authority of the Scriptures.
- From the Disciples of Christ, I learned about holiness.
- From the Methodists, I learned about fellowship.
- From the Evangelical Free Church, I learned about the necessity of a Christian worldview.
- From the Vineyard, I learned about evangelism through service and how to listen to the Holy Spirit.
- From the Pentecostals, I am learning the depth and breadth of what Christ did for me through the cross and what that means for how I view myself and others.
If this makes me a “mongrel in the Faith,” then I’m a mongrel. In defense of mongrels, I’ll say this much: we aren’t prone to genetic diseases that afflict the purebreds, and we’re certainly not inbred to the point of weakness.
As someone coming from a charismatic perspective, it always hurts to see fellow believers absolutely foam at the mouth and lash out with every verbal weapon they possess when it comes to the whole issue of the charismata working today. The worst part of that is the anger and accusations get leveled at people as opposed to ideas.I share Dan's loathing for aiming argument at people, but I will not stop with ideas - I have real beefs with institutions. Since Dan brought up the charismatics, let's go there, although I will preface this by saying I have huge beefs with my very own PC(USA) as an institution.
I have met many wonderful charismatic individuals in my life. I also believe in the charismata, though I personally have little experience of them. However, when the charismatic approach is institutionalized in the form of denominations such as the Four-Square or the A.G., I find little but mischief to result. It is my understanding that some of the newer organizations that exercise the gifts, but hold tight to reformed theology do not have the problems of these groups, but I have no experience with those denominations.
But what has come of groups like Four-Square and A.G. besides hucksterism and sadly, some real, sincere damaged lives? The authoritarianism built into such systems, the cult of personality on which their congregation thrive is a recipe for problems.
My point here is one that is implicit in Dan's post. It is reasonable and good to hold to the best traditions and ideas of various denominations, but we need to let go of the rest of it. There is only trouble in there.
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Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Stuff That Makes Me Shiver
- "Tabletop Pumpkins" with Scripture verses etched on them
- Christian versions of popular secular games (check out Apples to Apples: Bible Edition or Bible Scattegories)
- "Christian Candy"
- Jesus guitar pick necklace
He says something rather insightful:
I think my greatest frustration with the games is that it demonstrates a complete lack of creativity to plagiarize another game and tack the word Bible on to it. I'm all for creative ways to teach and learn the content of the Scripture but these games are just... well they make me want to puke!But that needs extending. The unoriginality is dead on, but tacking the word "bible," or "Christian," or whatever on anything does not in anyway shape or form sanctify it or make it better.
This is a form of legalism run rampant. This belies the very heart of Christ's ministry on earth. Who were Christ's enemies during His earthly sojourn? They were the RELIGIOUS officials of the time. The people that adopted the form of God's word without the substance.
All these things are just a modern form of the same problem. And the worst part is we use this crap to make ourselves think we are transforming into what God would have us be. You know the legalistic interpretation of Christ's admonition in the Sermon on the Mount on "lust in the heart" says that I should not look at nudey pictures. But that misses the point entirely that Jesus was making. Jesus said later, in essence, "I will take away your desire to look at nudey pictures, if you will but let me."
This stuff is tasteless and tacky and unoriginal. But that is not what makes me shiver, or cry. This stuff, presumably in Jesus name, gets in the way of Jesus doing His intended work in our hearts.
The hymn says it best - "Turn your eyes upon Jesus - Look full in His wonderful face."
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Tuesday, January 15, 2008
I Am Of Jesus
I have nothing against any of the leaders I mentioned above. They are doing what God has called and gifted and assigned them to do, and they have all made a significant impact for the Kingdom. Many of them are worthy mentors and models. But they are also just servants, just like each of us who follows Christ. My problem is not with the celebrities, but with the groupies who have made them such.Actually, there is another bad guy here - the Christian publishing business that makes and promotes this kind of stuff. It is a real Catch-22. The marketing models ensure that the message gets as far as possible, but they also create this personality cult stuff that is pretty heinous.
These groupies try to become clones of their heroes, instead of becoming who God has made them and ministering in a uniquely personal way that no celebrity could ever attain. Instead of claiming their standing in Christ and asking what He wants of their leadership in their unique situation, they settle for a trinkety-bracelet approach to ministry: "What Would Hybels Do?"
I have a friend who goes to an Anglican church because, as she put it, "I kinda like the personality taken out of my church experience." What a contrast to the celebrity mindset so prevalent in our culture.
All this is making me think about humility in leadership. Is anyone humble enough to to resist the temptations this marketing system, and I include viral marketing here too, creates? I am not too sure. This is one of the many reasons I am increasingly convinced that the call to Christian leadership is not a call to proclaim a message or build a church, or any such thing - it is to build a disciple.
Building disciples cannot happen in a mass market setting, and it is also a truly humbling experience. If you do it right, your disciple will soon be teaching you more than you could possible teach him/her.
When you are focused not on the message, but of the result the message produces, it is impossible to become a media star.
Think about it...
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Monday, January 14, 2008
What's Your Takeaway?
Leadership discussed the survey results with leading pastors and religious experts to ascertain the ramifications for church leaders. Three critical issues emerged:Those later two points are things I hammer on in this space all the time. The first one struck me as fascinating because it seems like Evangelicalism is bearing its inevitable fruit. If we make our faith all about individual salvation, individual, not corporate, faith expression is inevitable. That also explains why those institutions that do thrive do so on the basis of more "worldly" appearance than traditional piety.
* The local church is no longer considered the only outlet for spiritual growth.
* Churches must develop relational- and community-oriented outreach.
* Lay people have to be better equipped to be God's ambassadors.
Why would we work so hard to "type" Christians, which is a form of judgment, deciding who is a "real" Christian, and who is not, when the question itself says far more about the church than it does about individual Christians. Each of the categories presented seems defined to some extent about the connection to the church, as if the church is definitively THE body of Christ.
How can we in this age of extreme diversity of religious expression possibly make a claim of being THE body of Christ. Yes I know the Roman Catholic has recently asserted such a claim quite strongly, but historically speaking they are the only ones in the ballpark with even a remote shot at the title, the rest of us just have not been around long enough to make the claim.
You want to do this kind of characterization, I think John did a better job in the early chapters of Revelations, you know the seven letter to the seven churches. The "5 kinds of Christians" are the fruit. I think we need to be looking at the trees that are producing that fruit. It is the only way to get better fruit.
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Sunday, January 13, 2008
Sermons and Lessons
Charles Edward Jefferson was born at Cambridge, Ohio, in 1860. He came to public attention by the effectiveness of his preaching during a most successful pastorate in Chelsea, Mass., from which he was called to the Broadway Tabernacle, New York, in 1897. During his New York pastorate the Tabernacle at 34th Street has been sold and a unique structure, including an apartment tower ten stories high, has been built farther up-town. Dr. Jefferson has published several successful books. He had a mellow, sympathetic voice, of considerable range and flexibility, and he spoke in an easy, conversational style.
Christ died for our sins. - 1 Cor. 15:3.
I want to think with you this morning about the doctrine of the Atonement. Having used that word atonement once, I now wish to drop it. It is not a New Testament word, and is apt to lead one into confusion. You will not find it in your New Testament at all, providing you use the Revised Version. It is found in the King James Version only once, and that is in the fifth chapter of Paul‘s letter to the Romans; but a few years ago, when the revisers went to work, they rubbed out the word and would allow it no place whatever in the entire New Testament. They substituted for it a better word – reconciliation - and that is the word that will probably be used in the future theology of the Church. It is my purpose, then, this morning, to think with you about the doctrine of the reconciliation, or, to put it in a way that will be intelligible to all the boys and girls, I want to think with you about the “making up” between God and man.
Christianity is distinctly a religion of redemption. its fundamental purpose is to recover men from the guilt and power of sin. All of its history and its teachings must be studied in the light of that dominating purpose. We are told sometimes that Jesus was a great teacher, and so He was, but the apostles never gloried in that fact. We are constantly reminded that lie was a great reformer, and so lie was, but Peter and John and Paul seemed to be altogether unconscious of that fact. It is asserted that He was a great philanthropist, a man intensely interested in the bodies and the homes of men, and so of course lie was, but the New Testament does not seem to care for that. It has often been declared that lie was a great martyr, a man who laid down His life in devotion to the truth, and so He was and so lie did, but the Bible never looks at him from that standpoint or regards him in that light. It refuses to enroll Him among the teachers or reformers or philanthropists or the martyrs of our race. According to the apostolic writers, Jesus is the world’s Redeemer, lie was manifested to take away sin, lie is the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world. The vast and awful fact that broke the apostles’ hearts and sent them out into the world to baptize the nations into His name, was the fact which Paul was all the time asserting, “He died for our sins.”
No one can read the New Testament without seeing that its central and most conspicuous fact is the death of Jesus. Take, for instance, the gospels, and you will find that over one-quarter of their pages are devoted to the story of His death. Very strange is this indeed, if Jesus was nothing but an illustrious teacher. A thousand interesting events of His career are passed over, a thousand discourses are never mentioned, in order that there may be abundant room for the telling of His death. Or take the letters which make up the last half of the New Testament; in these letters there is scarcely a quotation from the lips of Jesus. Strange indeed is this if Jesus is only the world‘s greatest teacher. The letters seem to ignore that He was a teacher or reformer, but every letter is soaked in the pathos of His death. There must be a deep and providential reason for all this. The character of the gospels and the letters must have been due to something that Jesus said or that the Holy Spirit inbreathed. A study of the New Testament will convince us that Jesus had trained His disciples to see in His sufferings and death the climax of God’s crowning revelation to the world. The key-note of the whole gospel story is struck by John the Baptist in his bold declaration, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” In that declaration there was a reference to His death, for the “lamb” in Palestine lived only to be slain. As soon as Jesus began His public career He began to refer in enigmatic phrases to His death. He did not declare His death openly, but the thought of it was wrapped up inside of all He said. Nicodemus comes to Him at night to have a talk with Him about His work, and among other things, Jesus says, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness so shall the Son of man be lifted up.” Nicodemus did not know what He meant - we know. He goes into the temple and drives out the men who have made it a den of thieves, and when an angry mob surrounds Him He calmly says, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” They did not know what He meant - we know. He goes into the city of Capernaum, and is surrounded by a great crowd who seem to be eager to know the way of life. He begins to talk to them about the bread that comes down from heaven, and among other things He says, “The bread which I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” They, did not understand what He said - we under¬stand it now. One day in the city of Jerusalem He utters a great discourse upon the good shepherd. “I am the good shepherd,” He says; “the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” They did not understand Him - we do. In the last week of His earthly life it was reported that a company of Greeks had come to see Him. He falls at once into a thoughtful mood, and when at last He speaks it is to say that “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me.” The men standing by did not understand what He said - we understand. All along His journey, from the Jordan to the cross, He dropped such expressions as this: “I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished.” Men did not know what He was saying - it is all clear now.
But while lie did not talk openly to the world about His death, lie did not hesitate to speak about it to His nearest friends. As soon as He found a man willing to confess that He was indeed the world’s Messiah, the Son of the living God, He began to initiate His disciples into the deeper mysteries of His mission. “From that time,” Matthew says, “he began to show, to unfold, to set forth the fact that he must suffer many things and be killed.” Peter tried to cheek Him in this disclosure, but Jesus could not be checked. It is surprising how many times it is stated in the gospels that Jesus told His disciples He must be killed. Matthew says that while they were traveling in Galilee, on a certain day when the disciples were much elated over the marvelous things which He was doing, He took them aside and said “Let these words sink into your ears: I am going to Jerusalem to be killed.” Later on, when they were going through Perea, Jesus took them aside and said, “The Son of man must suffer many things, and at last be put to death.” On nearing Jerusalem His disciples became impatient for a disclosure of His power and glory. He began to tell them about the grace of humility. “The Son of man,” He said, “is come, not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” On the last Tuesday of His earthly life He sat with His disciples on the slope of the Mount of Olives, and in the midst of His high and solemn teaching He said, “It is only two days now until I shall be crucified.” And on the last Thursday of’ His life, on the evening of His betrayal, He took His disciples into an upper room, and taking the bread and blessing it, He gave it to these men, saying, “This is my body which is given for you.” Likewise after supper He took the cup, and when He had blest it gave it to them, saying, “This is my blood of the covenant which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins. Do this in remembrance of me.” It would seem from this that the one thing which Jesus was desirous that all His followers should remember was the fact that He had laid down His life for them. One can not read the gospels without feeling that he is being borne steadily and irresistibly toward the cross.
When we get out of the gospels into the epistles we find ourselves face to face with the same tragic and glorious fact. Peter’s first letter is not a theological treatise. He is not writing a dissertation on the person of Christ, or attempting to give any interpretation of the death of Jesus; he is dealing with very practical matters. He exhorts the Christians who are discouraged and downhearted to hold up their heads and to be brave. It is interesting to see how again and again he puts the cross behind them in order to keep them from slipping back. “Endure,” he says, “because Christ suffered for us. Who his own self bore our sins in his own body on the tree.” The Christians of that day had been overtaken by furious persecution. They were suffering all sorts of hardships and disappointments. But “suffer,” be says, “because Christ has once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God.” Certainly the gospel, according to St. Peter, was: Christ died for our sins.
Read the first letter of St. John, and everywhere it breathes the same spirit which we have found in the gospels and in St. Peter. John punctuates almost every paragraph with some reference to the cross. In the first chapter he is talking about sin. “The blood of Jesus Christ,” he says, “cleanses us from all sins.” In the second chapter he is talking about forgiveness, and this leads him to think at once of Jesus Christ, the righteous, “who is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but for the sins of the whole world.” In the third chapter he is talking about brotherly’ love. He is urging the members of the Church to lay down their lives, one for another, “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us.” In the fourth chapter he tells of the great mystery of Christ’s love: “Herein is love, not that we. loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” To the beloved disciple evidently the great fact of. the Christian revelation is that Christ died for our sins.
But it is in the letters of Paul that we find the fullest and most emphatic assertion of this transcendent fact. It will not be possible for me to quote to you even a half of what he said on the subject. If you should cut out of his letters all the references to the cross, you would leave his letters in tatters. Listen to him as be talks to his converts in Corinth: “First of all I delivered unto you that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins.” That was the foremost fact, - to be’ stated in every letter and to be unfolded in every sermon. To Saul of Tarsus, Jesus is not an illustrious Rabbi whose sentences are to be treasured up and repeated to listening congregations; Lie is everywhere and always the world’s Redeemer. And throughout all of Paul’s, epistles one hears the same jubilant, triumphant declaration, “I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Let us now turn to the last book of the New Testament, the Book of the Revelation. What does this prophet on the Isle of Patmos see and hear, as he looks out into future ages and coming worlds? The book begins with a doxology: “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever.” John looks, and beholds a great company of the redeemed. He asks who these are, and the reply comes back, “These are they who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” He listens, and the song that goes up from the throats of the redeemed is, “Worthy art thou to take the book, and to open the seals thereof; for thou wast slain and didst purchase us for God with thy blood.” At the center of the great vision which bursts upon the soul of the exiled apostle, there is a Lamb that was slain. Whatever we may think of Jesus of Nazareth, there is no question concerning what the men who wrote the New Testament thought. To the men who wrote the book, Jesus was not a Socrates or a Seneca, a Martin Luther or an Abraham Lincoln. His life was not an incident in the process of evolution, His death was not an episode in the dark and dreadful tragedy of human history. His life is God’s greatest gift to men, His death is the climax and the crowning revelation of the heart of the eternal. You can not open the New Testament anywhere without the idea flying into your face, “Christ died for our sins.”
How different all this is from the atmosphere of the modern Church. When you go into the average church today, what great idea meets you? Do you find yourselves face to face with the fact that Christ died for our sins? I do not think you will often hear that great truth preached. In all probability you will hear a sermon dealing with the domestic graces, or with business obligations, or with political duties and complications. You may hear a sermon on city missions, or on foreign missions; you may hear a man dealing with some great evil, or pointing out some alarming danger, or discussing some interesting social problem, or urging upon men’s con¬sciences the performance of some duty. It is not often in these modern days that you will bear a sermon dealing with the thought that set the apostles blazing and turned the world upside down. And right there, I think, lies one of the causes of the weaknesses of the modern Church. We have been so busy at¬tending to the things that ought to be done, we have had no time to feed the springs that keep alive these mighty hopes which make us Christian men. What is the secret of the strength of the Roman Catholic Church? How is it that she pursues her conquering way, in spite of stupidities and blunders that would have killed any other institution? I know the explanations that are usually offered, but it seems to me they are far from adequate. Somebody says, But the Roman Catholic Church does not hold any but the ignorant. That is not true. It may be true of certain localities in America, but it is not true of the nations across the sea. In Europe she holds entire nations in the hollow of her hand; not only the ignorant, but the learned; not only the low, but the high; not only the rude, but the cultured, the noble, and the mighty. It will not do to say that the Roman Catholic Church holds nobody but the ignorant. But even if it were true, it would still be interesting to ascertain how she exercises such an influence over the minds and hearts of ignorant people - for ignorant people are the hardest of all to hold. When you say that the Church can hold ignorant men, you are giving her the very highest compliment, for you are acknowledging that she is in the possession of a power which demands an explanation. The very fact that she is able to bring out such hosts of wage-earning men and women in the early hours of Sunday morning, men and women who have worked hard through the week, and many of them far into the night, but who are willing on the Lord’s Day to wend their way to the house of God and engage in religious worship, is a phenomenon which is worth thinking about. How does the Roman Catholic Church do it? Somebody says she does it all by appealing to men’s fears, she scares men into penitence and devotion. Do you think that that is a fair explanation? I do not think so. I can con¬ceive how she might frighten people for one generation, or for two, but I can not conceive how she could frighten a dozen generations. One would suppose that the spell would wear off by and by. There is a deeper explanation than that. The explanation is to be found in the spiritual nature of man. The Roman Catholic leaders, notwithstanding their blun¬ders and their awful sins, have always seen that the central fact of the Christian revelation is the death of Jesus, and around that fact they have organized all their worship. Roman Catholics go to mass; what is the mass? It is the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. What is the Lord’s Supper? It is the ceremony that proclaims our Lord’s death until He comes. The hosts of worshipers that fill our streets in the early Sunday morning hours are not going to church to hear some man discuss an interesting problem, nor are they going to listen to a few singers sing; they are going to celebrate once more the death of the Savior of the world. In all her cathedrals Catholicism places the stations of the cross, that they may tell to the eye the story of the stages of His dying. On all her altars she keeps the crucifix. Before the eyes of every faithful Catholic that crucifix is held until his eyes close in death. A Catholic goes out of the world thinking of Jesus crucified. So long as a Church holds on to that great fact, she will have a grip on human minds and hearts that can not be broken. The cross, as St. Paul said, a stumbling-block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks, is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believes. The Catholic Church has picked up the fact of Jesus’ death and held it aloft like a burning torch. Around the torch she has thrown all sorts of dark philosophies, but through the philosophies the light has streamed into the hearts and homes of millions of God’s children.
Protestantism has prospered just in proportion as she has kept the cross at the forefront of all her preaching. The missionaries bring back the same report from every field, that it is the story of Jesus’ death that opens the hearts of the pagan world. Every now and then a denomination has started, determined to get rid of the cross of Jesus, or at least to pay scant attention to it, and in every case these denominations have been at the end of the third or fourth generation either decaying or dead. There is no interpretation of the Christian religion that has in it redeeming power which ignores or belittles the death of Christ.
If Protestantism today is not doing what it ought to do, and is manifesting symptoms which are alarming to Christian leaders, it is because she has in these recent years been en¬gaged so largely in practical duties as to for¬get to drink inspiration from the great doctrines which must forever furnish life and strength and hope. If you will allow me to prophesy this morning, I predict that the preaching of the next fifty years will be far more doctrinal than the preaching of the last fifty years has been. I imagine some of you will shudder at that. You say you do not like doctrinal preaching, you want preaching that is practical. Well, pray, what is practical preaching? Practical preaching is preaching that accomplishes the object for which preaching is done, and the primary object of all Christian preaching is to reconcile men to God. The experience of 1900 years proves that it is only doctrinal preaching that reconciles the heart to God. If, then, you really want practical preaching, the only preaching that is deserving the name is preaching that deals with the great Christian doctrines. But somebody says, I do not like doctrinal preaching. A great many people have said that within recent years. I do not believe they mean what they say. They are not expressing with accuracy what is in their mind. They do like doctrinal preaching if they are intelligent, faithful Christians, for doctrinal preaching is bread to hearts that have been born again. When people say they do not like doctrinal preaching, they often mean that they do not like preaching which belongs to the eighteenth or seventeenth or sixteenth centuries. They are not to be blamed for this. There is nothing that gets stale so soon as preaching. We can not live upon the preaching of a bygone age. If preachers bring out the interpretations and phraseology which were current a hundred years ago, people must of necessity say, “Oh, please do not give us that, we do not like such doctrinal preaching.” But doctrinal preaching need not be antiquated or belated, it may be fresh, it may be couched in the language in which men ‘were born, it may use for its illustrations the images and figures and analogies which are upper¬most in men’s imagination. And whenever it does this there is no preaching which is so thrilling and uplifting and mighty as the’ preaching which deals with the great fundamental doctrines.
In one sense, the Christian religion never changes, in another sense it is changing all the time. The facts of Christianity never change, the interpretations of those facts alter from age to age. It is with religion as it is with the stars, the stars never change. They move in their orbits in our night sky as they moved in the night sky of Abraham when he left his old Chaldean home. The constellations were the same at the opening of our century as they were when David watched his flocks on the old Judean hills. But the interpretations of the stars have always changed, must always change. Pick up the old charts which the astrologers made and compare them with the charts of astronomers of our day. How vast the difference! Listen to our astronomers talk about the magnitudes and distances and composition of the stars, and compare with their story that which was written in the astronomy of a few centuries ago. The stellar universe has not changed, but men’s conceptions have changed amazingly. The facts of the human body do not change. Our heart beats as the heart of Homer beat, our blood flows as the blood of Julius Caesar flowed, our muscles and nerves live and die as the nerves and muscles have lived and died in the bodies of men in all the generations - and yet, how the theories of medicine have been altered from time to time. A doctor does not want to hear a medical lecturer speak who persists in using the phraseology and conceptions which were accepted by the medical science of fifty years ago. Conceptions become too narrow to fit the growing mind of the world, and when once outgrown they must be thrown aside. As it is in science, so it is in religion. The facts of Christianity never change, they are fixed stars in the firmament of moral truth. Forever and forever it will be true that Christ died for our sins, but the interpretations of this fact must be determined by the intelligence of the age. Men will never be content with simple facts, they must go behind them to find out an explanation of them. Man is a rational being, he must think, he will not sit down calmly in front of a fact and be content with looking it in the face, he will go behind it and ask how came it to be and what are its relations to other facts. That is what man has always been doing with the facts of the Christian revelation, he has been going be¬hind them and bringing out interpretations which will account for them. The interpretations are good for a little while, and then they are outgrown and cast aside.
A good illustration of the progressive nature of theology is found in the doctrine of the atonement. All of the apostles taught distinctly that Christ died for our sins. The early Christians did not attempt to go behind that fact, but by and by men began to attempt explanations. In the second century a man by the name of Irenasus seized upon the word “ransom” in the sentence, “The Son of man is come to give his life a ransom for many,” and found in that word “ransom” the key-word of the whole problem. The explanation of Irenasus was taken up in the third century by a distinguished preacher, Origen. And in the fourth century the teaching of Origen was elaborated by Gregory of Nyssa. According to the interpretation of these men, Jesus was the price paid for the redemption of men. Paul frequently used the word redemption, and the word had definite meanings to people who lived in the first four centuries of the Christian era. If Christ was indeed a ransom, the question naturally arose, who paid the price? The answer was, God. A ransom must be paid to somebody - to whom was this ransom paid ‘I The answer was, the devil. According to Origen and to Gregory, God paid the devil the life of Jesus in order that the devil might let humanity go free. The devil, by deceit, had tricked man, and man had become his slave - God now plays a trick upon the devil, and by offering him the life of Jesus, secures the release of man. That was the interpretation held by many theologians for almost a thousand years, but in the eleventh century there arose a man who was not satisfied with the old interpretation. The world had outgrown it. To many it seemed ridiculous, to some it seemed blasphemous. There was an Italian by the name of Anselm who was an earnest student of the Scriptures, and be seized upon the word “debt” as the key-word of the problem. He wrote a book, one of the epoch-making books of Christendom, which he called “Cur Deus Homo.” In this book Anselm elaborated his interpretation of the reconciliation. “Sin,” he said, “is debt, and sin against an infinite being is an infinite debt. A finite being can not pay an infinite debt, hence an infinite being must become man in order that the debt may be paid. The Son of God, therefore, assumes the form of man, and by his sufferings on the cross pays the debt which allows humanity to go free.” The interpretation was an advance upon that of Origen and Gregory, but it was not final. It was repudiated by men of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and finally, in the day of the Reformation, it was either modified or east away altogether.
Martin Luther, Calvin, and the other reformers seized upon the word “propitiation,” and made that the starting-point of their interpretation. According to these men, God is a great governor and man has broken the divine law - transgressors must be punished - if the man who breaks the law is not punished, somebody else must be punished in his stead. The Son of God, therefore, comes to earth to suffer in His person the punishment that rightly belongs to sinners. He is not guilty, but the sins of humanity are imputed to Him, and God wreaks upon Him the penalty which rightfully, should have fallen on the heads of sinners. That is known as “the penal substitution theory.”
It was not altogether satisfactory, many men revolted from it, and in the seventeenth century a Dutchman, Hugo Grotius, a lawyer, brought forth another interpretation, which is known in theology as “the governmental theory.” He would not admit that Christ was punished. His sufferings were not penal, but illustrative. “God is the moral governor,” said Grotius, “his government must be maintained, law can not be broken with impunity. Unless sin is punished the dignity of God’s government would be destroyed. Therefore, that man may see how hot is God’s displeasure against sin, Christ comes into the world and suffers the consequences of the transgressions of the race. The cross is an exhibition of what God thinks of sin.” That governmental theory was carried into England and became the established doctrine of the English Church for almost three hundred years. It was carried across the ocean and became the dominant theory in the New Haven school of theologians, as represented by Jonathan Edwards, Dwight, and Taylor. The Princeton school of theology still clung to the penal substitution theory, and it was the clashing of the New Haven school and the Princeton school which caused such a commotion in the Presbyterian Church of sixty years ago. They are antiquated. They are too little. They seem mechanical, artificial, trivial. We can say of the governmental theory what Dr. Hodge said, “It degrades the work of Christ to the level of a governmental contrivance.” If I should attempt to preach to you the governmental theory as it was preached by theologians fifty years ago, you would not be interested in it. There is nothing in you that would respond to it. You would simply say, “I do not like doctrinal preaching.” Or if I should go back and take up the penal substitution theory in all its nakedness and hideousness, and attempt to give it to you as the correct interpretation of the gospel, you would rise up in open rebellion and say, “We will not listen to such preaching.” If I should go back and take up the Anselmic theory and attempt to show how an infinite debt must be paid by infinite suffering, you would say: “Stop, you are converting God into a Shylock, who is demanding His pound of flesh. We prefer to think of Him as our heavenly Father.” If I should go further back and take up the old ransom theory of Origen and Gregory, I suspect that some of you would want to laugh. You could not accept an interpretation which represents God as playing a trick upon Satan in order to get humanity out of his grasp. No, those theories have all been outgrown. We have come out into larger and grander times. We have higher conceptions of the Almighty than the ancients ever had. We see far deeper into the Christian revelation than Martin Luther or John Calvin ever saw. These old interpretations are simply husks, and men and women will not listen to the preaching of them. If, now and then, a belated preacher attempts to preach them, the people say, “If that is doctrinal preaching, please give us something practical.”
And so the Church is to-day slowly working out a new interpretation of the great fact that Christ died for our sins. The interpretation has not yet been completed, and will not be for many years. I should like this morning simply to outline in a general way some of the more prominent features of the new interpretation. The Holy Ghost is at work. lie is taking the things of Christ and showing them unto us. The interpretation of the reconciliation of the future will be superior in every point to any of the interpretations of the past.
The new interpretation is going to be simple, straightforward, and natural. The death of Christ is not going to be made something artificial, mechanical, or theatrical. It is going to be the natural conception of the outflowing life of God.
The new interpretation is going to start from the Fatherhood of God. The old theories were all born in the counting-room, or the court-house. Jesus went into the house to find His illustrations for the conduct of the heavenly Father. He never went into the court-house, nor can we go there for analogies with which to image forth ‘His dealings with our race. It was His custom to say, “If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him.”
The new interpretation is going to be comprehensive. It is going to be built, not on a single metaphor, but on everything that Jesus and the apostles said. Right there is where the old interpretations went astray. They seized upon one figure of speech and made that the determining factor in the en¬tire interpretation. Jesus said many things, and so did His apostles, and all of them must contribute to the final interpretation.
Two things are to be hereafter made very clear: The first is that God reveals Himself in Jesus Christ. The old views were always losing sight of that great fact. There was always a dualism between God and Christ. I remember what my conception was when I was a boy. I thought that God was a strict and solemn and awful king, who was very angry because men had broken His law. He was just, and His justice had no mercy in it. Christ, His Son, was much better-natured and more compassionate, and He came forth into our world to suffer upon the cross that God ‘s justice might relax a little, and His heart be opened to forgive our race. I supposed that that was the teaching of the New Testament, it certainly was the teaching of the hymns in the hymn-book, if not of the preachers. And when I became a young man, I supposed that that was the teaching of the Christian religion. My heart rebelled against it. I would not accept it. I became an infidel. A man can not accept an interpretation of God that does not appeal to the best that is in him. No man can accept a doctrine that darkens his moral sense, or that confuses the distinction between right and wrong. I would not accept the old interpretation because my soul rose in revolt against it. I shall never forget how, one evening in his study, a minister, who had outgrown the old traditions, explained to me the meaning of the reconciliation. He assured me that God is love, invisible, eternal. Christ, His Son, is also love. In becoming at one with the Son we become at one with the Father. This is the at-one-ment. And when that truth broke upon me my heart began to sing:
Hath broken every barrier down;
Now, to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,
0 Lamb of God, I come!
I wonder in telling this if I have not spoken the experience of many of you this morning. It is impossible to love God if we feel that He is stern and despotic, and must be appeased by the sufferings of an innocent man. The New Testament nowhere lends any support to that idea. Everywhere the New Testament assures us that God is the lover of men, that He initiates the movement for man’s redemption. “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. . . .“ “Herein is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us.” “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” “The Father spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all.” “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.” “I and my Father are one.” These are only a few of the passages in which we are told that God is our Savior. When an old Scotchman once heard the text announced, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son,” he exclaimed, “Oh, that was love indeed! I could have given myself, but I never could have given my boy.” This, then, is the very highest love of which it is possible for the human mind to think: the love of a father that surrenders his son to sufferings and death.
And this brings us to the second great truth which is outgrowing increasingly clear in the consciousness of the Church. The death of Jesus is the revelation of an experience in the heart of God. God is the sin-bearer of the world. He bears our sins on His mind and heart. There are three conceptions of God: the savage, the pagan, and the Christian. God, according to the savage conception, is vengeful, and capricious, and vindictive. He is a great savage hidden in the sky. We have all outgrown that. According to the pagan idea, He is indifferent to the wants and woes of men. He does not care for men. He is not interested in them. He does not sympathize with them. He does not suffer over their griefs. He does not feel pain or sorrow. I am afraid that many of us have never gotten beyond the pagan conception of the Almighty. But ac¬cording to the Christian conception, God suffers. He feels, and because He feels, He sympathizes, and because He sympathizes, He suffers. He feels both pain and grief. He carries a wound in His heart. We men and women sometimes feel burdened because of the sin we see around us; shall not the heavenly Father be as sensitive and responsive as we men? But somebody says that God can not be happy then. Of course he can not be happy. happiness is not an adjective to apply to God. Happy is a word that belongs to children. Children are happy, grown people never are. One can be happy when the birds are singing and the dew is on the grass, and there is no cloud in all the sky, and the crape has not yet hung at the door. But after we have passed over the days of child¬hood, there is happiness no longer. Some of us have lived too long and borne too much ever to be happy any more. But it is possible for us to be blest. We may pass into the very blessedness of God. The highest form of blessedness is suffering for those we love, and shall not the Father of all men have in His own eternal heart that experience which we confess to be the highest form of blessedness? This is the truth which is dawning like a new revelation on the Church: the humanity of God. It is revealed in the New Testament, but as yet we have only begun to take it in. God is like us men. We are like Him. We are made ‘in His image. We are His children. and He is our Father. If we are His children, then we are His heirs, and joint heirs with Christ. Not only our joys, but our sorrows also, are intimations and suggestions bf experiences in the infinite heart of the Eternal.
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