Historical Mentor Revisited – John Chrysostom

St John Chrysostom, St Patrick's cathedral, Ne...

St John Chrysostom, St Patrick’s cathedral, New York City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some time ago I asked for some recommendations for an important figure from church history to engage with as a historical mentor. You gave me some wonderful suggestions and helped me think through the implications of some of the various choices available to me, and for that I am grateful.

I ended up selecting John Chrysostom as my historical mentor and enjoyed researching his life and thought for a paper for my Church History class. I knew next to nothing about him before my class, and since we were covering 2,000 years of history, we weren’t able to spend much time on him in class, so I was thankful for the opportunity to explore him a bit more.

 

His is truly an incredible story, and the way he has influenced our own Christianity today is fascinating.

I hope you’ll take some time to read through my paper and enjoy learning a bit about a bold man of God.

You can find it here.

Calling Revisited: The Perspective of the Church Fathers

One of the first topics I addressed on this blog was that of calling. I looked at questions about the nature of calling, what we really mean when we use the term, and whether we use it as it is used in the Bible. Feel free to take a look at the two earlier posts on the subject if you would like (I Hear Jesus Calling Part 1I Hear Jesus Calling Part 2).

In my church history class, as we’ve zoomed through important figures in the early eras of the church, an interesting theme has surfaced regarding calling. Someone in class mentioned it, and professor Marc Cortez gave us some helpful clarifying comments.

Among the figures we’ve looked at, there has been no indication of viewing calling as  a deep, personal feeling given by God. In fact, in looking specifically at the calling to pastoral ministry, or to the ordination as a bishop (which would have been the rough equivalent), almost universally, the church fathers did not want to be ordained, or at least did not seek it out for themselves. Calling to “ministry,” or in this case, church leadership, was not between a person and God, but was mediated either through the community of the church, or through the leaders of the church, or both. It would have been unheard of at this time for a Christian to approach their church leaders and tell them that they had been called to be a bishop or elder. What a radically different picture than what we see today!

Neither Chrysostom nor his friend Basil wanted to be ordained as bishops and even considered running away. John avoided it for a time by tricking his friend into being ordained without him.

In my previous posts, I suggested that what we usually term “calling” is more aptly described along the lines of “what God has prepared me to do for him” as opposed to an external, explicit call from God to a very specific task, such as was given to Paul or Isaiah. It would seem that in the early church, a call to church leadership was viewed as coming from God through the community rather than an individual feeling or leading from God. But is this the biblical way of things, and we have gone astray, or is it the other way around?

Almost certainly, the correct answer is not one or the other, but something between the two, as we are almost always out of balance one way or another. However, on first glance, I lean rather forcefully towards the model practiced by the church fathers.
It seems to follow the biblical model more closely (choosing of Matthias to replace Judas, choosing of Stephen and the others, etc.), and would also seem to swing the pendulum away from an overly individualized Christian life, which I think we suffer from in Western Christianity. I think that it would also lead to fewer Pastors who are entirely ungifted for the task. Unfortunately, in part due to the way we talk about calling, there are plenty of Christians who want to follow Jesus more closely and radically dedicate their lives to him, and they feel that the only way to really do that is to be a pastor or missionary. Thus they may head off to seminary with the best of intentions, but little gifting for the office to which they think they have been called. I tell you, as a seminary student, this seriously gives me pause.

This has been a bit of a ramble, but it is far too late for me to be writing, so you’ll have to forgive me. There is a great deal more to be explored here, and I must certainly do so soon, providing I can make the time.

Please share your thoughts with me.

When you think of the call to ministry, do you lean towards a call by the community, or an individual leading from God? Should those who have offered themselves up as candidates for church leadership take a step back? Is it proper for them to nominate themselves, or would it be better to love God with all you are, serve him with all your heart, and participate in leading the church only if you are called to do so by God, through the community, directed by the leadership of the church?

Can you think of any counter-examples from early church history that would speak to this discussion?

 

Doctrinal Statement: Person of Christ

Who is Jesus Christ? Who is the second person of the Trinity? What is the nature of the relationship between the two? My third and final (for now) doctrinal statement explores the Person of Christ. These are works in progress, but this is what I have thus far.

Person of Christ

Jesus’ life began when he was miraculously conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in Mary, a virgin (Lk. 1:26-35, Matt. 1:23, Isa. 7:14). The baby she carried is the incarnation (Jn. 1:14, Col. 2:9) of the second person of the Godhead, the eternal and pre-existent Word of God (Jn. 1:1-2, 8:58, Heb 1:8). He is called Emmanuel, God with us (Isa. 7:14, Matt. 1:23), and Jesus, YHWH saves (Matt. 1:21). Jesus is one person, but is both fully God and fully man, having a divine and a human nature that are never confused, changed, divided or separated (John 1:1-14; Mark 1:3,8, 11; Col. 2:9). He chose to empty himself of the divine role, lifestyle and prerogatives so that his human nature was not overwhelmed by his divine nature, yet without giving up his divinity (Phil. 2:6-7; Mk. 13:32; Jn. 5:19, 11:15, 21). Jesus himself claimed to be God, the Bible agrees with him in its claims and it describes him as doing things that only God can do such as create and forgive sin (Col. 1:16, Mk. 2:5).

Jesus lived a normal human life experiencing physical, mental, and spiritual growth (Lk. 2:52) and a full range of human emotions. He experienced hunger and thirst (Jn. 4:7, Lk. 24:41), anger and anguish (Mk. 3:5; Matt. 26:37-38), joy and compassion (Lk. 10:21, 7:13), temptation and suffering (Heb. 2:18; Matt. 4:1-10). He lived in obedience to his parents, human traditions and human government (Lk. 2:42, 51; Matt. 17:25-27). He was tempted in every way yet remained perfectly sinless, living as a perfectly Spirit-filled human (Acts 10:38; Heb. 4:15), and as such is our example (Mk. 8:34). He continued in relationship with the Father and Spirit, whose will he followed and on whom he relied for the power of his miracles, respectively (Jn. 6:38; Acts 10:38). He became obedient to both physical (Jn. 19:30; Phil. 2:8) and spiritual death (Matt. 27:46) in obedience to the will of his Father (Matt. 26:39; Jn. 14:31). After his body lay dead in the tomb for three days, he conquered death by being raised from the grave in the same, though glorified body (1 Cor. 15:3-4). After appearing to many people, he ascended to exaltation at the right hand of the Father and will return some day as King (1 Cor. 15:5-7; Acts 1:9-11, 2:33; Phil. 2:10-11).

Your thoughts on the Person of Christ, or on what I’ve written?

Take a look at my first doctrinal statement which explores the doctrine of Revelation and my second doctrinal statement which explores the doctrine of God.

Who Should I Select as my Historical Mentor?

One of the tasks we’ve been set in my Church History Course is to choose a prominent theologian from Church History as a sort of historical mentor. The idea is to get to know an important person from church history through what they have written and by seeking to understand what they have to offer us as followers of Jesus Christ today.

I’m quite excited by this opportunity, but as is usually the case, there are far too many interesting options available, and I must choose one. The only real restriction is that the person have produced a large enough body of work to engage with for a long time, and that they are dead.

If you read this, I’d love to hear your recommendation for a historical mentor and why.

Semester the Second

My next semester at Western Seminary will begin on January 9. I’m excited to be continuing my Greek studies with a course on Syntax with Dr. James DeYoung. I just read the assigned reading for the first week in our text, which is  Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. We used Mounce’s text the first semester, which I had gone through about 5 years ago during my undergrad, so I’m excited to be moving beyond what I’ve done before. The first semester was still plenty challenging, even being a review of sorts, but it remains to be seen how difficult this next course will be. Having just read the introductory material and the first few chapters on case, I think that while a bit dry, the nuance and depth of syntax will keep me interested.

One of the greatest helps for me going through the first semester was using my Greek every day. However, since the end of the semester, I’ve realized how difficult it is to maintain that habit without the accountability of homework. I need to seriously consider the best way to maintain and keep up what I’ve learned so far, while at the same time continuing to learn the material for this next level.

 

The other class I’ll be taking this semester is called Wisdom from Church History, taught by Dr. Marc Cortez. This is a class that I’m particularly excited about for a few reasons. I’ve never had the opportunity to study Church History before, beyond my own limited reading, and loving both history and the church, it’s an area that I’ve long desired to dive into. I’m also excited to take my first course from Dr. Cortez. When Shelby and I visited Western for the first time, my admission counselor set up a meeting with Marc and we were able to chat at length about the school, our goals, and whether Western might be a good fit. Since that first conversation, though I’ve not had a class with him, I’ve consistently enjoyed and been challenged by what he writes at his blog, Everyday Theology. He has a fantastic sense of humor, especially for a seminary prof, and as the title of his blog suggests, is passionate about the intersection of theology with life. He is also the director of Western’s Th.M. program, which is one that I’m considering after I complete my M.A. Put it all together and I’m excited by what I’ll be studying, and who I’ll be studying with.

 

I’m thrilled with how my first semester has gone, and I’m looking forward to the next. I did well in the three classes I took, and also received a number of credits by doing some Advanced Standing testing. Perhaps the most exciting thing is to see the transforming work the Holy Spirit is doing in my heart and life as I learn and live. The combination of school and church and life with my wife have provided me with ample opportunities to grow in practical knowledge and experience, as well as in grace and wisdom.

Doctrinal Statement: God

What is God like, and what does he do? My second doctrinal statement looks at the Nature and Work of God. These are works in progress, but this is what I have thus far.

Nature of God

There is one true God who is eternal and exists in inherent relationship (Gen 1:26). God is a spirit (John 4:24) and exists in the three coeternal persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who are personally distinct, but essentially united, comprising one “What” and three “Who’s” (Gen. 1:2, Matt. 3:16-17, John 14:11, 16-17, 1 Pet 1:2). They are equal in character and essence, and thus are equally qualified to receive worship (John 4:24, 20:28). The persons of the Godhead are all knowing, wise, and powerful, and present everywhere (Ps. 139:1-10, Jer. 32:17, Rom 16:27, Dan 4:35). The first person of the Trinity is fully God in essence and character and is specially working his purpose and plan, by which we are elected and adopted in love to the praise of the glory of his grace (John 6:37, Eph 1:3-14).

As a relational being, God is personal (Gen. 3:9) and has chosen to come near and reveal himself to us as YHWH, calling himself compassionate, gracious, loving, faithful, forgiving, patient, yet justly judging evil (Ex. 34:6-7). God is eternal, unchanging and infinite in his being, character, power, purposes, promises and knowledge (Num. 23:19, Mal. 3:6) but does change his attitudes and actions in response to our prayers, and resistance or repentance (Jeremiah 18:6-10, Jon. 3:10). He is loving, faithful, good, holy, just, and true (1 Jn. 4:8, Deut. 7:9, Ps. 34:8, Isa. 6:3, Deut 32:4, 1 Jn. 5:20). These attributes are objective characteristics of his nature and are rooted in his essence.

Work of God

God’s plan is eternally and sovereignly based on his gracious character, such as his infinite wisdom, knowledge, and power (Eph. 1:4, Rom. 11:33, Ps. 139:1-6, Rom.16:27, Jer. 32:17, Ps. 115:3, Dan. 4:35) and thus is not arbitrary or capricious. He is at work in all things, and is in control and will bring his purposes and plan to pass for the sake of his glory, in spite of many who make decisions which are contrary to and resist his will and desire (Ps. 33:10-11, 1 Chr. 29:11-12, Eph. 1:11). God hates sin, and is not its author, nor does he approve it (Jas. 1:13, Jer. 44:4, Zech. 8:17). God commands righteousness and forbids sin, even promising judgment as a result (Mic. 6:8, Ex. 20:1-17), but allows people limited, contrary choice for which they are always responsible (Isa. 1:18-20, Isa. 6:8, Rom. 2:6). To bring about his perfect plan in this broken world (Gen. 3:16-19), God limits and frustrates evil and is loving and powerful enough to do good even in the worst evil and suffering (Gen. 50:20, Jn. 18:28-30).

God chose, before the foundation of the world, to give every spiritual blessing to certain people, who are those in Christ (Eph 1:3-4). God chose some because he foreknew that they would respond to his calling in faith, and chose others purely on the basis of his sovereign purpose (1 Pet. 1:1-2, Rom. 8:29, Acts 13:48, Gal. 1:15). Some are in Christ as a result of God’s irresistible redemptive grace (Acts 9:4-7, Gen. 12:1-4) and others as a result of God’s resistible redemptive grace that he gives to all mankind (Tit. 2:11, Rom. 2:4-10). Those responding by faith to God’s gracious offer of salvation in Jesus Christ in no way merit salvation by their acceptance of the free gift, as the entire debt was paid by Jesus (Eph. 2:8-9, Rom. 3:22-28). God desires that all would be saved (1 Tim. 2:3-4, 2 Pet. 3:9) and draws all people to himself, but his kindness is rejected by many (Jn. 12:32, Rom. 2:5, Rev. 20:12-15).

God created from nothing and then formed that which he had made into the universe that exists by his word and for his glory (Gen. 1:1, 2:7, Ps. 33:6-7). God is transcendent and distinct from his creation, but his creation is entirely dependent on him and his immanent interaction with it. In his active providence he governs, preserves and upholds all things by his Word (Ps. 103:19, Col. 1:15-17, Heb. 1:3). He lovingly provides in order to bring about his redemptive end through the course of history and gives people a degree of partnership in ruling the world.

Your thoughts on God, or on what I’ve written?

Take a look at my first doctrinal statement which explores the doctrine of Revelation.

Doctrinal Statement: Revelation

My first doctrinal statement looks at the question of where and how God speaks. These are works in progress, but this is what I have thus far.

We know God as YHWH because he has chosen to reveal himself. Revelation is both possible and necessary because God created humans in his image (Gen. 1:26-27) and to live in relationship with him (Gen. 2:16). God did not stop speaking when man violated his trust (Gen. 3:9) but told the story of Messiah (Gen. 3:15).

 

 

General Revelation

This Revelation is General in that it is communicated to all people at all times (Ps. 19:4; Rom. 1:20). The means God used to speak to all people everywhere are creation (Rom. 1:20; Ps. 19:1) and conscience (Rom. 1:32, 2:14-15).  In creation, God makes plain (Rom. 1:19) his glory and creativity (Ps. 19:1), his power and divinity (Rom. 1:20), and his goodness and kindness (Rom. 2:4; Acts 14:17). In conscience, God reveals his righteous standard and his justice towards the breaking of that standard (Rom. 2:14-15). God purposed that humans would seek him (Acts 17:27) as he made himself known to them in these varied ways, but most, though coming to real knowledge of God (Rom. 1:21) suppress the truth (Rom. 1:18) and reject him and are without excuse (Rom. 1:20). Others are led towards repentance by God’s kindness (Rom.2:4; Acts 1:8).

Special Revelation

This Revelation is Special in that it is communicated to certain people at certain times. God’s purpose was to restore fellowship between humans and himself by revealing more fully his nature and plan. God spoke directly (Gen. 12:1-3), through angels (Matt. 1:20-21), through prophets, visions and dreams (Isa. 6:1-10; Gen. 37:5-7), and through the words and works of Jesus Christ (Jn. 1:14, 13:49), as recorded in the Bible.

 

 

The Bible

God’s words and works in history are recorded in the Bible, made up of the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, which claim to be from God (Deut. 18:17-18;1 Cor. 15:37), tell the same story (Lk. 24:25-27), and are recognized as Scripture by Jesus (Matt. 5:17-19), the apostles (2 Pet. 3:16) and the Church through the ages.

The Scriptures have their origin in the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:20-21) whose work is confluent with the diverse human authors so that every word of Scripture (Gal. 3:16; Jn. 10:34-35), its entirety and its parts (2 Tim. 3:16), is God-breathed (inspired) and communicates truth about God while maintaining the individual characteristics, cultures, and languages of the human authors.

The Bible, as originally written, is inerrant (Ps. 19:7, Jn. 10:35), meaning that what the Holy Spirit intended to communicate is in every way trustworthy and true, when properly understood. As God’s true word to us today, the Bible is our supreme authority (Acts 4:18-20, 17:11) is sufficient for salvation and relationship with God (2 Tim. 3:15-17), and its central message is clear and simple for all to understand (Deut. 30:11-14, Ps. 19:7-8).

Our understanding and acceptance of the Bible’s teaching as revelation is made possible by the illumination of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 14:26; 1 Jn. 2:27), through a consistent commitment to seeking authorial intent, accounting for genre, grammar, cultural, historical and literary context, and letting scripture interpret scripture.

 

Your thoughts on Revelation, or on what I’ve written?

Doctrinal Statements

One of the requirements for my Theology class this semester was to put together a Doctrinal Statement for the different things we covered in class. In this course, we covered   Prolegomena, Revelation, Theology Proper, and Person of Christ.

One of the two of you who read this mentioned you’d like to see them, so I’ll be posting what I’ve done so far in the next couple of days. The final one covering the Person of Christ will have to be finished before I post it.

Please feel free to interact or criticize (constructively would be ideal).

Who Understood Jesus’ Parables?

Jesus was a master storyteller, and constantly used them to teach his hearers. In Matthew 13:10-17, following the Parable of the Sower, the disciples ask Jesus why he taught in parables.

10Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:
“‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. 15For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’
16But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17 For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

via ebibleteacher.com

The common understanding of Matthew 13:10-17 is that the result of Jesus teaching in parables was understanding for some, but confusion and misunderstanding for many others. Some call this the result of the parables, whereas others go so far as to say that Jesus intended to teach in a way that would be unclear. I’ve never been entirely comfortable with this interpretation, since it seems to indicate that Jesus was less than concerned with his hearers understanding his message, which seems to run contrary to the desires of Jesus as portrayed elsewhere in the gospels (Luke 19:41-42).

In a recent Theology class, Gerry Breshears suggested essentially the opposite of this common understanding. He believes that Jesus taught in parables in order to make explicitly clear what it is that he was teaching. This is not to suggest that everyone had the same level of understanding, or that people accepted the message, but that Jesus’ parables communicated simple truths that would have been easy for his listeners to understand. There are complexities and nuances of meaning to be sure, but the core message of each parable was clear. The result of the parables was not a bunch of confused listeners, but rather people who understood the point Jesus was trying to get across in his story, and rejected it. I think this makes better sense of the quoted passage from Isaiah, and other similar passages. These were people whose hearts, for the most part, were already hard towards God. When Jesus, in his teaching and his parables, clearly drew a line in the sand, the choice was forced. Some were driven to respond to the radical message with repentance, others with rejection.

What do you think? Did Jesus tell parables in order to obfuscate, so that only those who dug through the murk would understand, or to make his message abundantly clear so that those who accepted the message would repent and those who spurned it would do so knowingly?

for an interesting read on how to read the parables, check out this post by Tim Gombis.

I hear Jesus Calling (Part 2)

from Wikipedia

In Part 1 of this post, I asked a few questions about calling and the validity of some of the ways we use the term today.

So when we say, “God called me to be a missionary”, or “I feel called to ministry”, what are we really referring to, if we have not experienced an external call from God in the dramatic and miraculous fashion that Isaiah, Paul, Moses, and others in the Bible did?

In my Discovering and Developing Ministry Potential Class, Ron Marrs, made this statement:

“God desires that everyone use their gifts, abilities, and talents to glorify him and love people and will sovereignly guide every Christian to a place of kingdom maturity.”

This is relatively standard stuff. As a part of the body of Christ, each Christian has been given spiritual gifts and has natural talents and abilities which they are responsible to use to love God and love people. However, as we discussed this in class, he made the point that this is essentially what we are talking about when we describe our calling.

A few people in our class had experienced what they described as some sort of external call from God, but the vast majority described some form of the leading of the Holy Spirit, often through confirmation of experience, through input from the community of believers, a discovery of a new passion, or by realization of a way to make use of a gift.

He suggests that we should, in order to find our place or places of kingdom usefulness:

  1. Examine our gifts, abilities, passions, and temperaments
  2. Consider the needs of people
  3. Weigh the variety of life’s obligations: work, marriage, family, school, church, etc.
  4. Discuss with trusted friends and family
  5. Pray!
It was evident during the discussion how ingrained the language of “calling” is. We all had a very difficult time talking about the type of ministry which we felt God had prepared us for without resorting to the language of “being called.” It was certainly eye-opening to me to realize that what I had in the past called a call, were things that I was passionate about, or good at, or enjoyed doing. There is nothing wrong with those things, and I think we should be aware of them. However, having never personally experienced a dramatic, external call from God to something very specific, I want to be careful about the language that I use, especially in order to avoid some of the detrimental confusion which I mentioned in Part 1.
I don’t necessarily think everyone should stop using the word “call”, and I honestly don’t have a great term (nor did my professor) for referring to what most Christians term their “calling.” It has been helpful for me to think through these things, and to understand that all disciples of Christ are called to serve him and his people in one unique way or another depending upon how he has made them. I may not have had a vision of the throne room of God, or been specifically sent to preach repentance to the Ninevites, but God has called me to repentance, and to his son, and Jesus has called me to follow him. I pray that I will faithfully pursue the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and to know myself so that I can follow him to the best of my ability.
Should we continue to use the term “calling” to refer to what we feel God has prepared us to do for him? Is there a better term that would preserve the biblical use of call as something more specific than many of us have experienced, and not cause as much confusion to those who have not had such experiences?