November 19, 2009

N'awlins Day 2

Oh, the gift to give us - that we should see ourselves as others see us.

Hilights today: (1) meeting bibliobloggers David Stark of New Testament Interpretation and Todd Bolen of the Bible Places Blog. (2) hearing a delightful and wonderful presentation by Randolph Richards entitled (Mis)reading Paul through Western Eyes. Honestly, if I could reproduce the entire speech here, I would do so right this moment. (3) Meeting with Ched Spellman from SWBTS who was kind enough to engage me about Evangelicalism's varying levels of (dis)interest in Historical Reconstruction. (4) The intense challenge of attempting to sympathetically process Bruce Ware's message on how Jesus was able to resist sin as a human.

This is just really worth putting online.

In all fairness, Bruce's presentation completely assumed that Jesus' activity took place within the context of his relationship to the Father. Unfortunately, Bruce rarely presented Jesus' activity of resisting sin with any reference to God. In fact, in my estimation, his presentation was almost entirely negative. Again, Bruce may have assumed the context of Jesus' desire to please God, but his remarks themselves were 90% focused on "sin", "temptation" and "ability". Resisting is a negative activity.

The main issue, according to Bruce, is that "it was hard work" for Jesus to resist temptation, which became more and more difficult through his life, and that Jesus accomplished this great task by (1) prayer (2) focusing on God's Word and (3) the power of the Spirit. Strictly speaking, I don't technically disagree. In fact, I'll affirm the basic thrust of each point he made. However, I'm much more comfortable with a relational presentation.

In my opinion, it's not that Jesus was trying hard to NOT anything. It's that there was something else Jesus cared about more - pleasing the Father whom he genuinely loved with all his heart, soul and strength. IMHO, if you force yourself to keep the discussion in those terms, there's no way Jesus could have sinned because the relational bond underscores all other activity. (As a matter of fact, this point could have been included in Randolph's paper.) It's a very unsophisticated philosophy I'm presenting here, but it makes a whole lot more sense in real life terms. Besides which, it's positive.

If SIN, by definition, is disobedience to God, then avoiding sin is avoiding disobedience; but that double-negative should be turned around into a positive. Avoiding sin is simply obeying God... which comes from loving God... which implies knowing Him in the context of relationship. When pressed, Bruce said that Jesus' relationship to the Father was implied by "the power of the Spirit". I said I agreed. But I also said my concern is that after his message trickles down through the pulpits to the pews - people hear "power of the spirit" like it's a magic energy source. As a result, many people in the pews go home and (1) pray (2) read their Bibles & (3) say, "Okay, now God give me strength to be good." And the rest of all their Christian lives is negative ("resisting sin") and aside from asking for strength and remembering no-no's it may as well be virtually Godless.

Here's what I did not say to Bruce. Of course, he was in a hurry.

The shameful indictment of all this could be that people like Bruce present this sophisticated construction precisely because it boils down to something do-able. Christians can (1) pray (2) read and (3) beg for power. I honestly don't presume to judge the quality of Bruce Ware's spiritual life - or that of the hundreds if not thousands of preachers who communicate this very same message to their pepole. But I do absolutely know that such a message translates automatically into human effort, for anyone who's not already developed a deep relationship with Jesus Christ.

Worse yet, I wonder if these preachers really believe the christian life IS prayer, bible and power. It contains those things. It should not and cannot be reduced to those things.

Jesus Christ never sinned because he was deeply connected to his Father. He was loved by Him. He loved Him. He desired to please Him. He found that obeying Him brought him more of Him. He obeyed Him all the more. So they loved each other all the more.

In stark contrast, if we struggle so, and if our emphasis is entirely fixed on "sin" and "resisting"...

Dear God, what does that reveal about our true apprehension of You?


Eric said...

Thanks, I needed your analysis to set my focus straight again.

Bill Heroman said...

Praise the Lord, Eric.

I'll count on you returning the favor someday. :-)

Unknown said...

What a wonderful analysis... the relationship of Jesus to his Father defines what is "sin" and what is "not sin." Thus you could go on to say that sin is really "missing the mark" where the mark or bull's eye is loving and pleasing God through your oneness with him. In this sense, most of what we do,-- even trying to be "good" so that we can get to heaven -- is sin because we are not developing that loving relationship with the Creator, but are, instead, protecting ourselves from what we perceive as destruction.

Thanks Bill

Bill Heroman said...

Thank you, William. I deeply appreciate that and I'll add my amen.

One caution - or probably more of a clarification for communication's sake - is that I wouldn't move too quickly to start taking "most of what we do" and calling it "sin". Strictly speaking, I suppose one could put things in those terms, but if we did so regularly, or based our worldview on such language, I'd be as opposed to that emphasis as to Ware's emphasis.

A bad lifeguard tells children at the pool to "stop running". A good lifeguard tells them to "walk". That's not just psychology, it's good clear communication. So I say if the goal is to focus on God, it doesn't really help to spend too much time defining what is or isn't sin.

John Donne said "I neglect God for the noise of a fly." We all, indeed, will continue to fall short of the glory of God. A life of victory is first about recognizing Jesus' wonderful love and constant focus on God, and second about growing more and more into harmony with that life - His Life which is IN us - which *still* devotes itself to God the Father.

So on "sin", I appreciate the shift in thinking that you've expressed. I just wouldn't want you (or anyone else who reads that comment) to overemphasize the negative. That was my whole critique in the first place.

I trust you understand. Thanks again, deeply, for your comments.

By the way, William, I'll hope to make your acquaintance some time in the future - because I can't see your blogger profile for some reason.

Ched said...


I was interested to hear your perspective as well.

I hope the rest of your trip (SBL/IBR) goes well.

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