Tuesday, March 18, 2008

New Testament Spirituality :: The Breaking-Down of God

New Testament spirituality was not conceived with the birth announcement of the Christ child or the dawning of the early Church and the infusion of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Rather, New Testament spirituality is deeply rooted within the context of the biblical narrative. We cannot fully understand, appreciate or appropriate the work of Christ without a comprehensive understanding of the story as a whole. It is into this story that the Gospel writer John ardently aspires to catapult his earliest readers, as well as us today.

John takes us all the way back to the beginning. His opening line echoes that of Genesis, in the beginning. He’s reminding us of God’s original design and desire to experience relationship and intimate communion with humanity. As our minds track back to what was in the beginning, we are reminded of what happened to that divine plan and the consequence of humanity’s disobedience. Humanity lost connection with God as spiritual death occurred. God, at that point ultimately became unknowable, at least in the truest and deepest sense. As Paul said, humanity after the fall no longer possessed the ability or capacity to receive and understand the things of the spirit.[1] Jesus, writes John, is the only one who has seen God at any time. Furthermore, John says that Jesus not only has seen God, but He has “declared Him to us.”[2]

In our Western Culture, the word “declare” doesn’t pack much punch. It seems that everybody is declaring something, much of which we pay little or no attention. Therefore, it’s unfortunate that this is the English word used in the translation of verse eighteen. In actuality, this is a spellbinding word in the Greek and when it is applied to Jesus as John does, it becomes mesmerizing. It’s the Greek word exegeomai, we get the word “exegete” from it. This word is used in the context of someone doing an exegetical teaching of a particular book of the Bible. In short, if someone were to do so, they would take a particular book of the Bible and begin to “draw out of it and bring out of it”[3] everything that was originally intended and hoped for in the heart of the author. There would be a thorough discourse of the culture, history, geography and social allusions of the time. To do an exegetical study means to look into any and everything that could provide insight and greater understanding to what the text actually meant to the first hearers, as well as to us today. In addition to the externals of the text, one would then turn his or her attention to the structure of the text, the words used, the words not used, the words that could’ve been used, all of this helps one gain a fuller understanding of what the author was originally communicating. After all that has been blown out on the table, one begins to pull all of those pieces back together to show forth the fullness of the text.

It can be a bit like endeavoring to put a thousand piece puzzle together. The first thing you do is scatter all the pieces on the table. Initially, only a few of them provide a clear enough picture to know where they go. Yet, as the picture becomes clearer, the pieces begin to appear and as more pieces begin to appear, the picture becomes clearer still. The corners and the borders provide additional clarity as to what this puzzle will at some point be.

John has a picture in mind of who God is, and he desperately wants us to see it. John said, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”[4] Jesus is full of grace and truth, He is from God, He is God, and now He’s come in the flesh to us and began to “declare Him” to us. What John is literally saying is this: No one has seen God, since the fall of humanity, indeed no one could. With the first Adam, life- spiritual and eternal life found in communion with God was lost, but now One has appeared and He possesses it once more. Not only that, but He is giving us an exegetical disclosure of who God is[5]. He is breaking the infinite God down bit by bit, showing us, teaching us, demonstrating to us the mind, the heart, the core of Who God is. For John, everything Jesus did was indicative of who the Father was, this is why in John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “I do nothing unless I see the Father do it, and the Son does it in like manner.”[6]

Jesus is the picture of Who God is, He’s the picture on the box of the thousand piece puzzle. In chapter one, John tries to lay out some of the corner pieces that are imperative to our seeing Jesus, as well as our understanding of Christian Spirituality. The corner pieces are the elements that Jesus possesses, which have been beyond the reach of fallen humanity: the eternal life (1:4), the truth (1:14), the Logos-Word – which entails an accurate understanding and perspective of who God is (1:1), and the Spirit residing within (1:33 & 20:22). Everything John then proceeds to tell us is in effect filling in the borders and interior of Who Jesus is and what He came to do. Each piece is “declaring” to us another aspect of the Father. This is where John starts his Gospel. However, as he’s writing, John concludes that there is not enough room on the table to put the puzzle together, and what he thought was a thousand piece puzzle has turned out to be at least ten million. He discovers, that he’s going to be unable to complete the puzzle in the writing of this Gospel, actually he’s pretty sure that he’ll never finish it. He simply closes the Gospel by saying, “And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world (cosmos) itself could not contain the books.”[7]

Herein lies the biblical foundation of New Testament Spirituality. Jesus, the one who possess eternal life has been incarnated, thus restoring the eternal life of God to humanity. As such, humanity may once again walk with God and be indwelt by the Spirit of God. The Second Adam has restored to humanity all that the First Adam forfeited through disobedience. The longings and needs within humanity, as Bowe writes, have been fulfilled in Jesus.[8] Furthermore, it is through this awareness of the ongoing work of Christ to bring “restoration to all things”[9] that our “futurology”[10] is developed with faith, hope and love.[11] True New Testament Spirituality is expressed with an empowerment of the Spirit to live in the present world, an enablement to see the earth as it really is,[12] and an enduring passion for the soon coming King and His Kingdom.[13]

[1] 1 Corinthians 2:13.
[2] John 1:18.
[3] New Testament Lexicon, ref. no. 1834. (Computer Software)
[4] John 1:14.
[5] Barbara E. Bowe, Biblical Foundations of Spirituality, (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), 145.
[6] John 5:19.
[7] John 21:25.
[8] Barbara E. Bowe, Biblical Foundations of Spirituality, (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), 146.
[9] Acts 3:21.
[10] Paul Stevens & Michael Green, Living the Story, (Cambridge: Eerdmans Publishing, 2003), 179.
[11] Ibid., Living Jesus, 180.
[12] Ibid., Living Jesus, 192.
[13] Ibid., Living Jesus, 183, 192.

1 comment:

warrior princess said...

Sorry... this doesn't really have anything to do with your post... it has to do with Sunday's sermon this last week. I tried to get creative and make a picture that portrayed the hand thing that you had us do on Sunday. I posted it over at my blog and thought i'd share it with you...