The Importance of Jesus’ Life

Hebrews 2:10-18

Christians talk a lot about Jesus’ death. That is good and right. Jesus’ death and resurrection are the climax of history. Every other event pales in comparison to these. However, it may not be often enough that we stop to consider the importance of Jesus living a whole human life prior to his death. Why was Jesus born? Why did he live as an infant? A toddler? A child? A teenager? A young man? The Christmas season is an appropriate time to pause to consider the importance of Jesus’ whole life, birth to death and resurrection.

Jesus’ life was marked by suffering and temptation. Not only was he tempted by the evil one to abandon the way of suffering and gain power through disloyalty to the one he knew as Father (Matt. 4:10); he was tempted by friends and family that wanted to keep him from doing what God had called him to do (Mark 3:21). He was tempted by his own disciples with their own conflicting agendas (Mark 8:32). On top of all this was the regular lot of suffering and trial that comes with being human. Despite all of this Jesus remained faithful and paved the way of salvation demonstrating with his whole life what it looks like to be fully human and fully given over to God.

Even more, in living a whole human life Jesus became for us a sympathetic high priest. This involves two important points. First, a perfect high priest must be sympathetic to those he represents. He cannot be sympathetic if he has not entered into their experiences of both joy and pain. Second, a perfect high priest must be fully obedient and faithful to God. If he were disobedient, he himself would be in need of a priest to represent him before God. So, the writer of Hebrews can say that Jesus, “the pioneer of [our] salvation,” was made, “perfect through sufferings” (2:10). That is not to say that Jesus lacked sinless perfection. As “the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being” he was already perfectly sinless (Heb. 1:3). No, the eternal Son of God was only lacking in his human experience. So, he entered into human life being born of a woman and lived a full human life in order that he might become a perfect high priest able to both sympathetically represent suffering humanity before God and to stand before God himself sinless and pure.

Jesus’ life was important because he needed to share in our experiences in every respect so that he could atone for our sins with his blood. So, you see, the work accomplished by Jesus’ death could not be complete without his whole life. Jesus lived and died and was raised so that we could be restored and reconciled to God and so that we could see what it looks like, and ourselves be enabled, to live a life of holiness unto God. And because he was tempted and suffered like us, he is able to help us when we are being tested (Heb. 2:18). Having reconciled us to God by his blood, our pathfinder is able to lead us down the path of authentic holiness of heart and life to God! Thanks be to God for the fully human pioneering life of Jesus!

Grace and peace,


"The God Who Is Triune" by Allan Coppedge

May I recommend Allan Coppedge’s new volume The God Who is Triune. This book represents the author’s contribution to the current revival of Trinitarian theology. In line with John 1:14, 18, “no one has ever seen God; the only Son from the bosom of the Father, he has made him known,” Coppedge allows Jesus to be the entry point into a fully Trinitarian doctrine of God. This opening line from the book’s introduction captures the spirit of the entire book, “It’s time to return to Jesus as the center of the Christian faith!”
The book divides into five general areas. Chapters 1-5 set forth the foundations of Coppedge’s Trinitarian theology. There has often been a perceived problem with the data for Trinitarian theology because there are a limited number of passages which mention all three persons of the Trinity together. Coppedge takes a fresh approach suggesting ways to expand the data including the use of all texts which include references to at least two persons of the Trinity. These chapters also include a brief history of Trinitarian development and chapters on the way the Triune God relates to the cosmos and to himself.
The second section takes a look the nature and attributes of the Triune God. Again, Coppedge’s approach is fresh in that he looks first at the personal and moral attributes of God in order then to understand the relative and absolute attributes of God. Systematic theology has traditionally taken these in the reverse order. Coppedge’s approach, however, is more faithful to the scriptures in that God reveals himself in personal relationship to his creatures in the context of a covenant rather than providing humanity with abstract theological treatises.
Chapter nine is devoted to the roles in which God relates to his creation. It is followed by two chapters on the nature of creation. The final two chapters are devoted to the way a personal Triune God utilizes providence and exercises his sovereignty providing fresh support for the traditional and biblical views of the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition on sovereignty, freedom, and responsibility.
The book is certainly accessible to interested laypersons. It would also present a challenge to seasoned experts in the field. Coppedge brings new insight to the Christian doctrine of Triune Theism.

N.T. Wright Visits Asbury

It probably won’t take a long perusal of this blog to discover that Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright has had a significant influence on both my theological thinking and the way I read the Bible. So, it will come as no surprise that I was excited about his visit to our Asbury Theological Seminary this week. Wright delivered two lectures entitled “Use of Scripture in Contemporary Political Discourse” and “God in Public: Biblical Faith in Tomorrow’s World.” Both lectures were quite compelling and full of important insights about the way Christians should engage in the realm of politics. However, my favorite event of the week was the New Testament Colloquium where Wright presented a talk entitled, “Acts and the Contemporary Challenge of the Gospel.” The events were rounded off by a small talk back session where I was fortunate enough to sit at a table with the Bishop and discuss a few matters of exegesis in Romans as well as get the above picture. For those who are not familiar with Wright and his work, his website has more than enough material to start with. It is worth the time to listen to at least a little of what he has to say. I particularly appreciate his desire to communicate with people in every level of society. Wright’s is no ivory tower theology. I’m surely not the first to say that he writes with a scholar’s pen but a pastor’s heart.

Grace and peace,


Colluding With Death

In his recent debate with Alister McGrath, Christopher Hitchens lumped Christianity in with other religions as seeing death as the way out of this life and into the next. That Hitchens is able to make this claim and be taken even slightly seriously indicates a severe problem with modern Christianity. From it’s inception Christianity has asserted that death is the enemy of God and his good creation. God is the Living One whose creation was made to exist eternally free from decay. Humanity bears the image of the Living God, and for one of God’s image bearing creatures to die is a departure from his intention and an attack on his sovereignty. Thus, in the death and resurrection of Christ, the Living God has accomplished redemption, not unto death, but freedom from it. The New Testament has little to say about what happens to a person when they die. It certainly never envisages the death of the physical body to be the final state of being for one who is in Christ. The biblical writers had a consistent vision of the final resurrection of the body and ultimate new creation, a world free from bondage to death and decay. For those who would like to follow this up in the text see Romans 8:18-25, 1 Corinthians 15, and Revelation 19-22.

The problem is that modern Christianity has largely lost sight of the doctrine of the resurrection. This is evident in the way we train people to share the gospel. The old Evangelism Explosion tactic of asking potential converts, “how do you know you’ll go to heaven when you die,” sends a message that the moment after death is the final state of being for a person. This is misleading. It is half a gospel at best and a perversion of the gospel at worst. I’ve heard Christians say things like, “When I die, I’ll be more alive than ever.” My response is, “No, you’ll be dead.” Only when Christ appears bodily, and the bodies of the dead raised and the living transformed to a state of imperishability and incorruptibility, will we be able to say we are alive in the fullest sense of word.

So, Hitchens‘ conclusion that Christianity is one of many religions that sees death as the pathway to the next life, should send up some red flags for Christians. This indicates that we are not doing a good job of preaching the doctrine of the resurrection, neither of Christ nor of believers. This is a problem because, according to 1 Corinthians 15, if you don’t have the doctrine of the resurrection, then you don’t have Christianity. Modern Christianity is in danger of losing one of it’s essential tenants. The above evangelism example indicates that, in practice, the doctrine is all but lost already. I recommend N.T. Wright’s For All the Saints? (to whom I owe the title of this post) as a brief but helpful introduction to Christian beliefs about death and resurrection. In our preaching and in our living we must rediscover and emphasize the doctrine of the resurrection! Everything depends on it!

Grace and peace,


McGrath-Hitchens Debate

Here is a link to a recent debate on Christianity and Atheism between biochemist and theologian Alister McGrath and author Christopher Hitchens. Following are few comments on this important debate.

1. Christopher Hitchens is arguing against what is largely a caricature of Christianity. Few, if any, of his claims could be validly posed against historic orthodox Christianity. For example, early in the debate Hitchens indicates that he believes it immoral for a religion (Christianity) to implicate him in the actual death of Jesus of Nazareth. Well, okay. I’m not aware of any Christian teaching that claims anyone other than the Jewish temple establishment and the Romans were directly responsible for the death of Jesus. In Acts, Peter is quick to point a finger of blame, not at himself and everyone else, but at those whom he took to be responsible for Jesus’ death (2:36). If there are Christian sects that teach some sort of universal human responsibility for the death of Jesus, I’m not aware of them and I don’t take them to be representative of historical orthodox Christianity. Hitchens is attributing to the whole the alleged characteristics of some few parts. This is called the fallacy of composition and Hitchens commits it regularly. Someone needs to call the old chap on this one.

2. Hitchens also has a thoroughly inadequate understanding of Trinitarian Theism. This shortcoming appears on at least two occasions. First, he takes the idea that God would pour the punishment of all humanity on one human to be immoral. However, he never approaches the idea that this human is also God incarnate, the second person of the Holy Trinity. Thus, it’s not just about God dumping his wrath on some poor human scapegoat. The atonement involves God taking God’s wrath against humanity upon himself. In Christ, God himself mercifully becomes the scapegoat for humanity’s sin against God. Second, Hitchens reveals that he conceives of God in a deist framework. He likes to talk about whether or not God intervenes in the world to do various things. He doesn’t think of God as continually present in the world by virtue of his Holy Spirit. He doesn’t think of God as one who is near and longs to dwell in and among his human creation. Again, this stems from a severely lacking understanding of Trinitarian Theism on the part of Hitchens.

3. Hitchens also made the claim that religion is always looking for death as the way to leave this world and go to the next. He claims that religion is only interested in the destruction of the world. Hitchens, once again, here betrays the inadequacy of his understanding of the Bible and the Christian religion. Historic orthodox Christianity has held consistently that the Triune God has no intention of destroying this world. Rather, he will renew it in every way by flooding it with the glory of his personal presence. New creation is the message of the Bible from cover to cover. Death is always the enemy of the Living God. Christianity never sees the destruction or the death of the created order as the goal. Quite the opposite, Christianity envisages a world free from death and decay, a “world without end” as the Gloria Patri says.

4. I greatly appreciate the work of Alister McGrath and his willingness to engage people like Hitchens in public debate. However, McGrath often appears to be on his heels in these types of debates. He often deals with minor defensive points rather than going at Hitchens on the level of his inadequate worldview or on his gross misrepresentation of Christianity. Hitchens’ style of debate is one of shock and awe. He does not appear to be as interested in dialogue as he is in offending and demonizing those who do not agree with him. McGrath is much more of a gentleman and approaches the debate with a more dialogical tone. McGrath did claim that Hitchens’ atheism could not support moral/ethical claims. However, McGrath did not press Hitchens on this point. Also, McGrath, an historical theologian, certainly knows the extent to which Hitchens misrepresents historical Christianity. However, he did not go far in challenging Hitchens on these misrepresentations.

If Hitchens is to be debated successfully, someone is going to have to unabashedly say that he is wrong and that his assertions are based on misrepresentations. Further, the validity of Hitchens moral claims needs to be targeted as well. His atheistic worldview cannot sustain claims of morality.

I’d love to hear comments and reactions to the debate.

Grace and peace,


Preachers are not Psychologists

“If the church’s teaching is deficient, then its fellowship, sacrament, and worship are likely to feel that deficiency. The primary mandate of the the church is not to teach miscellaneous opinions about psychology, politics, or sociology that are not derived from revelation. The church has received authorization to teach that which has been delivered to the church from God.”

from Thomas Oden, The Living God, 326

Athanasius on Theology and Godliness

“Thus Athansius insisted that theologia and theosebeia, theology and godliness, belong inseparably together: for genuine knowledge of God arises only within an intellectual experience of his transcendent reality and majesty, and is maintained in the continuous context of worship, prayer, holiness and godly living.”

from T.F. Torrance, Theology in Reconciliation, 248