A Selection from On Human Nature, Gregory of Nazianzus

But why me? why’s it for me to sing so much of humankind’s misfortunes?
The ache exists for each one of our race.
It’s not by me that the earth goes unshaken, the gales batter the seas;
and the hours give way to each other in a rush:
night’s laid rest to day, the air’s grown thick with cold.
The stars by the sun and the sun by a cloud
find their beauty expunged: and the moon revives.
Again, this heaven, full of stars, is half as bright.
And you, Lucifer, were once among the angelic choirs,
O evil-eyed! But you’ve dropped now shamefaced from the heavens.
Be merciful to me, O Trinity, cherished kingdom: not even you
entirely escaped the tongue of senseless mortals.
First the Father, afterwards the great Child, and then the great God’s
Spirit is attacked by scurrilous words.
Where will you stop while carrying me further, bad-counseling worry?
Stop. Everything is secondary to God. Give in to reason.
God didn’t make me in vain. I am turning
my back upon this song: this thing was from our feeble mindedness.
Now’s a fog, but afterwards the Word, and you’ll know all,
whether seeing God, or eaten up by fire.
Now, when the beloved mind had sung for me these things,
it digested its pain. And late from the shady grove I headed home,
now laughing at this self-estrangement, then once again
heart in anguish smoldering, from a mind at war.

Poem 7/18

O Lord our God, whose beauty beckons,
bring us in to know your light.
You’ve made us so to want to see you,
yet you alone can give such sight.
Hope you gave in songs and visions,
telling truth you laid in law;
Christ you came, our love apparent,
we looked on you and God we saw.

Endless joy to seek your face,
glimpses fuel yet more desire.
Meant to know you as your own,
to nearness raise us ever higher.

Give us grace, make us more like you;
give our minds what your heart seeks.
Tune our every contemplation,
that what we love we might now see.

On Hermeneutics and Ethics, Part II

In my first post, which you can find here, I began to contemplate the longing Rachel Held Evans expressed in An Evangelical’s Response to Homosexuality for Jesus to have spoken directly on the subject.

Even if only because Jesus said we ought to, it is integral to our faith that orthodox Christians consider all of scripture as the Word of God. Though Christ claims all of scripture points to himself, and validates the continued relevance and authority of the Old Testament by quoting the text authoritatively and being obedient to the law taught therein, he does critique and expand the contemporary interpretations and applications of scripture.

Two notable examples of this would be when he heals a man on the Sabbath (Luke 14:1-6) and his sermon on the mount (Matthew 5). In the sermon on the mount, each of Jesus’ critiques are a call to greater faithfulness to God’s Word. Each is a call to repentance, a condemning of misinterpretation and misuse of the Word of God. There is no sense of a release from the constraints of the Law, in fact Jesus anticipates this reading and preemptively proclaims, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them…” (v. 17).

Evans states, “I don’t assume to know what Jesus would actually say, but I have a feeling he would turn the tables in some way or another. He did that a lot, especially when people asked him about political issues, or about the sins of others.”  Jesus did often ‘turn the tables,’ but it is important to note that he never takes what the Old Testament explicitly calls sinful and calls it now not sin. Turning the tables on the religious leaders might be a call to repent from their own sins and be better priests to those struggling around them, but he never repeals the Word of God given in scripture. As I stated in my first article on this subject, this is most simply true because Jesus is, and as the Son of God has eternally been, the Word of God.

More to come.

On Hermeneutics and Ethics

As part of my preparations to teach an Apologetics course this Fall, I recently read Rachel Held Evans’ essay An Evangelical’s Response to Homosexuality, in which she shares her personal turmoil over the nature of homosexuality and the church’s treatment of homosexuals. As she wrestles with William Webb’s distinctions between ‘cultural’ and ‘trans-cultural’ statements in scripture, she states:

I think I’d have a lot more clarity on this issue if I knew what Jesus had to say about it. But unfortunately, if he did address the issue, we have no record of it.

Ouch. This is a problematic response, but is symptomatic of an all-too-common hermeneutic— a hermeneutic that limits the words of Jesus to those sometimes writ in red.

John begins his Gospel this way:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

This is an exposition of who Jesus Christ is. He is eternally God. Son of God. Member of the Trinity. Word, integral to all creation’s existence. Co-eternal with the Father and the Spirit. Source of life and light for men. Is Christ’s incarnation a new grace to the world? Yes. His incarnation, his presence on earth, not to mention his work completed on earth, is unquestionably pivotal in redemptive history. However, Christ is not the new Word of God. Christ incarnate is not the first proclamation of the Word of God. Christ is the eternal Word of God, now incarnate. John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh.” Jesus says of himself that all the prophets and writings of scripture speak of him. Not only does this mean that Christ’s coming has been prophesied through the ages, but this means it is him, as Word, his truth, that has been proclaimed through all of scripture. This is why the Gospel was proclaimed first to the Jews, even. Because Jesus was the Christ they had been promised centuries ago. Because the incarnation is not God doing something new and novel, but bringing to further completion that plan which he began before time.

To suggest that the only words of Jesus we have are those transcribed in quotes in the Gospels is to deny him the very identity which he claimed for himself and which the rest of scripture ascribed to him. And if he isn’t who he said he is, he should be of no interest to us.