An intellectual is one who loves ideas, is dedicated to clarifying them, developing them, criticizing them, turning them over and over, seeing their implications, stacking them atop one another, arranging them, sitting silent while new ideas pop up and old ones seem to rearrange themselves, playing with them, punning with their terminology, laughing at them, watching them clash, picking up the pieces, starting over, judging them, withholding judgment about them, changing them, bringing them into contact with their counterparts in other systems of thought, inviting them to dine and have a ball but also suiting them for service in workaday life. A Christian intellectual is all of the above to the glory of God. -James Sire, Habits of the Mind: Intellectual Life as a Christian Calling
As discussed in several earlier posts (see here), I spent most of my research time over the summer concentrated on the phrase ‘in Christ’ in Paul.
I chose to do this for multiple reasons, I will not bore you with them all, but one of the reasons is I find a lot to like in what is called the Participatory School of Pauline Soteriology (also called Apocalyptic, Eschatological, Mystical and even Pneumatologically Participatory Martyrlogical Eschatology by one well-know lover of acronyms).
Yet, one of my main critiques of this school is there is often no clear understanding of what ‘participatory’ means. In other words, it sounds great (and more importantly seems to be a faithful reading of Paul) to say we participate in Christ, but what does that actually entail.
Thus, I was on a quest this summer to find how I would define participatory soteriology in Paul and I returned with five key terms.
- Unconditional – given as free gift
- Real – a concrete reality
- Relational – become fully relational beings
- Transformational – produces actual and lasting change
- Eternal – once Christ is put on it is forever
Obviously, each of these terms needs to be more fully described and more importantly tied with texts*, but they at least introduce the themes I see orbiting around the phrase ‘in Christ’ in Paul’s letters.
A second idea I found during my quest is the recognition that Paul incorporated three central realities into those found ‘in Christ’: righteousness, baptism into death, and an exalted newness of life. Also, fundamental is Paul found these ideas first in Christ. That is to say, they are realities present in Christ which are then ‘put on’ those ‘in Christ.’ Thus, my understanding of ‘in Christ’ found a referent in Christ. It became a phrase that describes both the cause and effect of Paul’s understanding of salvation.
While I have long way to go to complete my quest, the phrase I continually returned to this summer, in teaching and research, is at least a beginning,
What is real in Christ is real in those now ‘in Christ.’
*The central texts for these ideas, and I believe for understanding ‘in Christ’ in Paul, are Rom 3, Rom 6, Gal 3, and Eph 2.
In studying συν Χριστω, I was intrigued by Paul’s use of συν-compounds. Most of these compounds only appear in Paul in the New Testament but they seem to incorporate so much of Paul’s theology – engaging past, present, and future realities for those ‘in Christ. It turns out I am not the only one who finds these terms significant…
As for our theme of union with Christ, Dunn states that the συν-compounds are even more significant in Paul’s usage than the phrase συν Χριστω:
For the real force of the ‘with Christ’ motif is carried by the remarkable sequence of about forty ‘with’ compounds which constitute yet another distinctive feature of Paul’s writing. He uses them both to describe the common privilege, experience, and task of believers and to describe a sharing in Christ’s death and life.
Indeed, McGrath goes so far as to say that ‘the quintessence of Saint Paul’s doctrine of the solidarity of the body of Christians with Christ is contained in the concepts embodied in the words which we have been considering’. Believers suffer with him (Rom 8:17), are crucified with him (Rom 6:6), are nailed to the cross with Christ (Gal 2:19), are united with him in his death (Rom 6:5), are fellow members of the same body (Eph 3:6), are built together in him (Eph 2:2), die with Christ (2 Tim 2:11), and are buried with him (Rom 6:4; Col 2:12). God brings believers to life in Christ (Eph 2:5; Col 2:13), who are raised up with him (Eph 2:6; Col 2:12; 3:1) and live together with him (Rom 6:8; 2 Tim 2:11). They become like Christ (Phil 3:10), are conformed to him (Rom 8:29; Phil 3:21), are joint-heirs with him (Rom 8:17; Eph 3:6), are joint-partakers of the promise (Eph 3:6), and are seated together with Christ (Eph 2:6) so that they may reign with him (2 Tim 2:12) and be glorified with him (Rom 8:17).
For many Christians, the reason we never more from “dead works to serve the living God” (Heb 9:14) is our past. We believe the blood of the Lamb is powerful enough to cleanse us from our sins, but our conscience is left unchecked, untouched by the blood. Our conscience and its view of our past reigns over our life.
Our conscience defines us by our past. Gregg Matte, pastor at Houston’s First Baptist Church, asked this past Sunday,
“How do you fill in this blank? I am a __________.”
He was trying to get us to move from first recognizing ourselves by our roles (mom, dad, teacher, student, accountant) and to begin with our identity in Christ (I am a Christian). But for many the voice in our head fills in this blank all to easily. Our first answer is not our role or identity in Christ, but that moment, that action, that person from last week, last month, last year, last decade, last century that never allows us to move on. Through this one thing our conscience defines who we are.
Once our conscience can define us, it begins to control us. To be blunt, because that is how we deal with ourselves. We might sugarcoat what we say about others, but with ourself we never hold back. “I am a – whore, idiot, liar, thief, cheater, addict, etc.”. We still believe this is truly who we are and so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We cannot seem to escape our past because we keep repeating the past.
Finally, when our conscience is allowed to control our actions, we ultimately accept it will never change. We give up. Our conscience wins. We are paralyzed unable to move. If our conscience isn’t touched by the blood of the Lamb our life will never change!
Into this, Hebrews speaks a word of truth…”How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from the dead works to serve the living God.” The blood of Christ purifies you completely! You are set free of sin (9:15), cleansed from all unrighteousness (9:22), and the power of sin is destroyed (9:26). Your actions and your conscience are purified!
Let today be the day your past loses control and you are set free to serve the living God!
I am often amazed by how afraid we (Christians) are of the brain. Why are we so worried that if we use it we lose our faith? Whether it is said this way or not this means…if you learn too much you will surely lose your faith because no smart person would believe this stuff! Or more bluntly Christianity is for stupid people!
Oh the irony! One of the major critiques of Christianity by nonbelievers is it is a crutch for the weak or ignorant. And as much as we bristle at this notion when it comes from the “outside” we perpetuate it from the “inside.” The church is making the argument for them, our fear of learning is all the proof they need that Christianity is for stupid people!
Let us become a people who love God with all our mind!
Moreover, it’s not just Christian scholars and pastors who need to be intellectually engaged with the issues. Christian laymen, too, need to be intellectually engaged. Our churches are filled with Christians who are idling in intellectual neutral. As Christians, their minds are going to waste. One result of this is an immature, superficial faith. People who simply ride the roller coaster of emotional experience are cheating themselves out of a deeper and richer Christian faith by neglecting the intellectual side of that faith. They know little of the riches of deep understanding of Christian truth, of the confidence inspired by the discovery that one’s faith is logical and fits the facts of experience, of the stability brought to one’s life by the conviction that one’s faith is objectively true. – William Lane Craig
If what we claim about Jesus Christ is true, then evangelicals should be among the most active, most serious, and most openminded advocates of general human learning. Evangelical hesitation about scholarship in general or about pursuing learning wholeheartedly is, in other words, antithetical to the Christ-centered basis of evangelical faith. Mark Noll
At root, evangelical anti-intellectualism is both a scandal and a sin. It is a scandal in the sense of being an offense and a stumbling block that needlessly hinders serious people from considering the Christian faith and coming to Christ. It is a sin because it is a refusal, contrary to the first of Jesus’ two great commandments, to love the Lord our God with our minds. Os Guinness