Friday, April 9, 2021

Worlds Colliding

It has been several years since I realized there was a bit of a disconnect in my mind. I read or re-read J. N. Darby's article, "First Resurrection; or, Resurrection of the Just" (Collected Writings, Vol. 2, pp. 301–309), and was struck by the clarity with which he points out that the Lord's coming for us is precisely Resurrection. Somehow, in my mind, the Lord's coming for us and the Resurrection were two distinct events.  There was a moment in my head that went something like this:

NICENE CREED: Our hope is the resurrection

DISPENSATIONALIST BIBLE TEACHER: No, our hope is the Lord coming for us

J. N. DARBY: (Looking confused) What's the difference?

That has proven to be a life-changing moment.

Over the past couple years, I have found myself combating the idea that our faith is (or ought to be) what Francis Schaeffer would call an "upper storey experience." I find myself slipping over and over into the idea that there's a "real world right now" reality where I go to work, pay my bills, keep the woodstove burning, wash dishes, and do all the "mundane" things; and then there's another level of reality where God is, where I am a believer, where the Lord Jesus is coming for me. It's really a very split view of reality... But that's not what Scripture teaches. 

There is a repeated theme when Moses addresses the children of Israel on the plain in Moab, he appeals to them several times on the basis of what they saw, and what they had heard (see Deuteronomy 4:9–13, etc.). The face-value message is that they shouldn't forget the Lord, but there is a deeper message here too: he is reminding them that these things really happened. They weren't to think of them in terms of myth, but in terms of documented, verified, witnessed history.

In Francis Schaeffer's excellent True Spirituality, he talks about how, if we were at the Crucifixion and we were to run our hands over the cross, we'd get splinters. His point is that the events of our faith happened in this world: they're not in some mystical reality. There is a physical place where the Son of God physically died, and people were there who saw it (John 21:24–25).

The appeal to witnesses characterizes both the Old and New Testaments. Moses appeals to the people to remember what they themselves had seen and heard, Paul appeals to over five hundred witnesses of the Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1–8), and in what strikes me as the most convincing statement of the entire chapter, he admits that most of them are still alive, but some had since died.

But the point that Moses was making, that Paul was making, that Francis Schaeffer was making, is that our faith isn't in some other. We believe the Lord rose bodily from the dead. We believe God actually spoke to Moses in an audible voice, in human language. We don't believe the Lord will come for us spiritually (whatever that means), we believe He will actually arrive in this physical world at a definite point in time, and take us away.

I've been struggling to understand how to live that reality. The first thing I began to understand is that everything in this life is to be done in the name of Christ (Colossians 3:17). I don't even begin to know all that means, and I'm quite sure I'm not living up to it. But one thing it has to mean is that there's no such thing as a mundane thing. I'm to eat and drink in the name of Christ. I'm to wake and sleep in the name of Christ. I'm to wash dishes and drive to work in the name of Christ. I am to feed my chickens in the name of Christ. And yes, I am to kill and eat those chickens (when the time comes) in the name of Christ.

I think our Reformed friends have a better handle on this than our Dispensationalist friends do.

Something else it means is that asceticism is fundamentally flawed: if I am to do all things in the name of Christ, then there's really no part of this physical life that I am divorced from. I'm not to live in the hope of being rescued from this life, I am to live it in the name of Christ.  

Which is not, of course, to say we're not to be looking for the Son of God to come from Heaven to change our mortal bodies (Philippians 3:20–21). But it is to say that we ought to be living this life – until He comes – in His name.

There's a lot more to be said, but it's time to wrap this one up. Suffice it to say, doing all things in the name of Christ is one of the simplest and hardest things to do. But it's what keeps us from living in a spiritual un-reality. It protects us from asceticism on the one hand and latitudinarianism on the other. But more on that later.


Rodger said...

I am really looking forward to the sequel you hint at in your closing paragraph, Mark!

The last few days I’ve had a couple conversations about the general loss of common sense. That loss seems to have opened the window of opportunity for ever-increasing government, which has continued to foster and deepen it. That aside, it seems that people used to be more practically acquainted with the breadth of “common life” (food growing, fixing, building, sewing, etc.; in essence, how to work with the world God has made us a part of). People who do have more of a working knowledge of many things seem to have a sort of wisdom that extends across the whole of life. The increase in specialization and outsourcing has led to our lives being abstracted and prone to dangers; and I wonder if the same thing happens to our Christianity. The most level-headed Christians are usually ones who have a wholeness to the activity of their life. They garden, do their own oil changes, go hunting and do their own butchering. And that, in some way, lends to their theology and practice, and prevents them from being carried away. There is an experiential wisdom that pervades their lives.

I think you are highlighting the complementary perspective, Mark: to do those things right, we need to do them in the name of Christ. Rookmaaker said, “John 1 and Hebrews 1 affirm that the world was created through the Word, meaning Christ, and that nothing can exist without Him, for He is the foundation of all that is... The structural laws which constitute the world in which we live cannot be dissociated from our relationship to God. God gave man everything, including life with all its potential, and said, “It is good” (Genesis 1). Because the whole structure of reality is based on Christ (cf. Colossians 1:15-19, Ephesians 2:20-22), man cannot live outside of Christ without ruining life and bringing about destruction.”

I don’t know if that makes any sense, but I’m hoping we all can help one another get a clearer sense of Christian reality, and look forward to further comments.

clumsy ox said...

I'm struggling with both the challenge of articulating my thoughts and the challenge of understanding how to walk up to them.

One theme I'm beginning to notice is the willingness to discard what we can't fit into our ideas. I think Darby's advice of "if you can't do it in the name of Christ, you shouldn't do it" has become a sort of excuse to limit what we do. Perhaps we set up a list of "approved activities" that are allowed in this life, because we can do them in the name of Christ. I don't get the sense from either the New Testament or the Old that we are to live less, if that makes sense.

As an example, I keep chickens. I have struggled with things like keeping chickens... is it worldliness? is it setting up something for myself in this world, rather than looking for Christ's coming for me? is it a vain, fleshly pursuit that takes away time and energy from walking with the Lord? These aren't silly questions, they're very real concerns. But... they are the result of a Puritanical, rather than a Scriptural view of things. I have seen Colossians 3:17 as limiting what I do in this life to the bare minimum, conserving my energy, so to speak, for the next life. But now I see it as having a sanctifying effect on this life: I am to keep chickens in the name of Christ (which is a challenge all on its own, they are such destructive and troublesome creatures). Then even something as mundane as keeping chickens becomes an act of worship, practicing the Lordship of Christ in all areas of my life (as Francis Schaeffer would say).

I do envy those who change their own oil. I have been wanting to learn to repair and maintain my own vehicle for a long time, but it's hard to justify the cost of equipment and the potential cost of causing very real damage when compared to the cost of taking it to an expert. I tend to feel like I've accomplished something when I remember to check my fluids...