Tag Archives: Nicene orthodoxy

the forgiveness of sins….and life everlasting

On The Sign Of Jonah, Forgiveness, Repentance, and Reconciliation

The last few lines of the Apostles’ Creed reads:

“8. I believe in the Holy Ghost:

9. I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints:

10. The forgiveness of sins:

1l. The resurrection of the body:

12. And the life everlasting. Amen.”

While I do plan on doing a series on me being historic creed-affirming and what that means as an outlier, very much Free Church Baptist, I want to focus on the last three lines today. I think it’s of most urgency to talk especially about “the forgiveness of sins” part in a violent, unforgiving world with a 24-hour news cycle. Unfortunately, many mainline and evangelical churches discuss “forgiveness” without talking about repentance. As for myself, I know I have personally been in error of talking and writing about repentance while neglicting forgiveness. Specifically in concrete terms, when pastors and Christian celebrities make mistakes or break the law, our very first reflex is to accept apologies in the name of forgiveness, and then once again put that person back up on a pedastal. “Forgiveness” has become redefined as letting the person who has sinned live as if nothing ever happened. Things go back to the way they are. Apologies make a mockery of repentance.

At the same time, the sinned against feel outraged. The sinned against, the victims of the powerful, rightly continue to call for true repentance, that metanoia where the sinner changes not only her/his mind, but also her/his habits. No, things cannot go back to the way they were before. But the Church insists Things Must Stay the Same. But the Spirit sent by the Father and the Son, calls out, saying to us, no sinner, everything must CHANGE.

On anger, very briefly. Anger is a legitimate emotion in Scripture. The problem occurs when we stay angry, when we allow our perpetrators to define us. In a way, by allowing the sun to set on our wrath, the Law and Sin (the Old Creation) continue to remain in power as a stronghold. In Christ, we are New Creations, being conformed to the Image of God. The Great Commandment and the New Creation reconstitute us into new selves, selves determined by the grace of God. Anger can inhibit us from taking action just as much as any emotion can. Frustration is not a guarantor of social change, no more than joy, no more than apatheia, or empathy.

What I love about Jesus is that he teaches us how God is in control of God’s emotions, and how we can be too. Christ Jesus was proceded by the prophetic tradition we witness in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. One such prophet was Jonah. In Chapter 4, Jonah reveals why he ran away from YHWH’s call on his life. “I knew that you were a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger, abounding in love, a God who RELENTS from sending calamity.” Did Jonah have a right to being angry? What was his beef with the city of Ninevah? I was always curious why until I read Miguel De La Torre’s Liberating Jonah: Forming An Ethic of Reconciliation. “The Assyrians were the conquerors, rather than the people in some distant place waiting to hear the good news of their salvation. There are clear parallels that link the United States with the empire of Assyria, and Jonah and Israel represent those who exist at the margins of empire and are subject to its mercy or domination” (27).

So we see that God had chose a member of one of Assyria’s victims to call them to repentance, and coincidentally teach them about God’s forgiveness. In the New Testament, like in Matthew 12:38-41, Jesus talks about the Sign Of Jonah. The former enemies of Israel, the Assyrian oppressors, are far better off than Jesus’ generation (under the Roman Empire). The people of Ninevah recognized the goodness and mercy of God, and that brought them to repentance.

What I want to point out is not an androcentric message how dark the hearts of Jesus’ opponents or the ancient Assyrians were. What I want to say is that many Christians pat themselves on the back for making calls to repentance by pointing out how totally depraved everyone is. What would stop a person just turn around, and not affirm a higher power at all, after hearing that message? So with the Apostles Creed , and the witness of Scripture, we can say, we believe in the forgiveness of sins AND the Resurrection of the Body, i.e., the goodness and mercy of God.

Granted, I have often dismissed the cliche “God is good all the time,” because of all the suffering around us. It’s really actually one of the most difficult divine character traits for me to affirm. But the story of Jonah reminds us that God is merciful, God can choose to RELENT, that God is OPEN to our cries. Our suffering does not determine who God is. God’s Goodness, grace, is what defines The triune God.

In the words of Karen Baker Fletcher, “The logic of the Crucified God in Jesus the Christ, who forgives those who kill and offers hope for redemption, points to a better path. It is in this second more difficult and challenging, path that one becomes more than forgiven but more fully in the image of God. The promise of God in Christ is the restoration of full humanity in God’s own likeness deliverance from ALL DISTORTIONS and corruptions of that likeness” (Dancing With God, p108).

The act of forgiveness is an act of hope. God sent the Son to call for our repentance/teach us about the One True, Merciful God in hope for everyone to know God (Acts 17:30). Forgiveness is NOT the act of accepting apologies so things can go unchanged, the status quo in tact. Forgiveness is opening ourselves up to the possibilities of our enemies’ repentance, so that we may be reconciled in restored fellowship. Thus, forgiveness, repentance, and the hope for reconciliation should never be severed. Just as justice and righteousness go together, so too repentance and forgiveness.

Now, I know haven’t gotten to a lot of concrete implications but let’s start with God’s forgiveness. On one hand, Scripture repeats God will forgive our sins and FORGET. God will relent from God’s memory our trespasses. On the other hand, Jesus the Son of God returns in Revelation with his raised heavenly body, filled with scars. The cheap adage “time will heal all things” is not true. That is fatalism and works righteousness, something opposed to grace. Only the Cross of Christ heals, and God doesn’t keep a grudge. So the implication for our own actions is that we as New Creations are called to forgive sins, but always remember the sinned against. As the apostle Paul says, “remember the poor.”

So we should keep in mind the most vulnerable when our church bodies are deciding how to handle issues of corruption, abuse, or integrity. Just as God has given us our free will (the space for genuine repentance and loving relationship with God), churches and communities too should set proper boundaries and safe spaces for the sinned against, for the sake on the whole body.

In this way, we can affirm the Creed, “We believe in

10. The forgiveness of sins:

1l. The resurrection of the body:

12. And the life everlasting. Amen.”

the divine feminine: God the Father

My intention for this series is to come from a perspective that gives weight to Scripture and church history. Before I do that, I must share this story. My first year in seminary had its ups and downs. I was a Barthian four-point Calvinist with progressive politics. In one practical theology class, the professor made it compulsory to write inclusive language about God. Distressed, I called the first disciple of Jesus I ever knew: my mother. If she was to fit a category theologically, she’s Arminian and gender wise, complementarian. I complained, “But mooooom! They’re just enforcing THEIR agenda!” She responded, “Rodney, God is Spirit, God is greater than what you or I can imagine.” Then it hit me, yes God is transcendent. I alluded to that in my final paper for undergrad. I would go on to become a better theologian because of this friendly reminder. And well write my Master’s thesis on the topic.

The Gospel of John chapter one, verses one through eighteen, functions as a Jewish-Christian anti-polytheist, anti-imperial critique. As an announcement of Good News, the Johannine author (John for short), writes of a creation account whereby the Word/Wisdom of God echoes the creation theology of the book of Exodus (Chapter 33-34for ex.). “The vocabulary of 1:1-18, “word….light….life….God…testimony….glory….grace….truth,” is reminiscent of the epiphany that attends the law at Sinai”- Dwight Callahan. Fascinatingly enough, Clement of Alexandria in his commentary on the Decalogue, argues that the Logos Inarnate is the same spoken word of God from Sinai to Moses and Israel.

The way that we understand the Parenthood of God is by first looking at the sources that name YHWH as FATHER. What type of Parent is God?

In the Torah, starting with Genesis, Moses refers to GOD as El Shaddai. Now as J.R. Kirk points out, most of our American Standard English translations of the Bible sanitizes biblical language. They are not “literal” as many claim; more like literary. El Shaddai like in Genesis 17:1 the covenantal God who demands the practice of circumcision (of all practices), is El Shaddai, the God of Many Breasts.

This God is not simply “God of the mountains.” That comes from reading extra-biblical sources, which are then re-read into the text. God El Shaddai alone is the source of humanity’s fruitfulness (Genesis 35:11, 49:25). The Bible’s condemnation of Ashera must be seen just as John 1 is, as prophetic critiques against idolatry. God doesn’t need a wooden Ashera statue or pole to represent God. God is Spirit, God is Holy and faithful, and expect us as human beings to do the same.

Revert back to Exodus 34, specifically verse 13, Israel is commanded to break down the Asherah poles and “sacred stones.” Again, verse 17,” Do not make cast idols.” Contrary to what the complementarian Center for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood teaches, the concern for Asherah poles was NOT about Asherah’s gender. It was about the actual poles and statues themselves being barriers to the Israelites worshipping The One True God.

Now, as El Shaddai, God our Nurturing Parent makes room within herself as God of the Patriarchs, the God identified as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Feminist scholars find the divine election of Abraham and the covenantal practice of circumcision to be a male-centered discourse (Genesis 17). What would it mean to examine this text in light of God as nursing Mother/Father? Perhaps one implication would be that since God is transcendent, God is capable of opening Godself up to the Other.

In several of his writings, Clement of Alexandria refers to God as God our Nurturer. Unfortunately, many complementarians essentialize fatherhood to simply providence (men being the breadwinners). This explains why CBMW president Owen Strachan can use shame to call out stay-at-home fathers as “MAN-FAILS.” The God of the Bible is great, God is holy, and God cannot be contained by anything according to Clement. The protest against gender essentialism is a protest against idolatry. And this protest actually works both ways. The Holy Other God who worked in the lives of the prophets Deborah and Huldah, warriors like Jael, and apostles like Junia and Phoebe, is also the Warrior God of the Exodus (Exodus 34:11).

God the Nurturing Parent, the Mother and Father of all creation was revealed to the Jews and Gentiles in life, death, and Resurrection of the man, Jesus of Nazareth. It is in Christ’s return we see in Revelation 1:13, that Jesus recieves the Church as the Son Of Man with nursing breasts (mastoi). And if we see the Son, we have also seen the Father. It is the Second Person of the Trinity that I shall turn to next.

the divine feminine: a trinitarian perspective: a series

Let’s be upfront. There’s probably no way for me to write a series like this and not be called the dreaded “H” word: “heretic.” Earlier this year, fellow Southern Baptist Owen Strachan farewelled Rachel Held Evans for a post she WROTE TWO YEARS AGO. I really don’t expect Strachan and the like to change their views. However, there are a lot of Christians who are earnestly seeking to partake in the larger tradition of historic Christianity. Orthodox historic Christianity does NOT BEGIN AND END with The United States of America.

What I am looking for in a Trinitarian theology is a theology that includes both Western and Eastern Christianity, that can reconcile the two, as well as witness to the reconciliation that Christ has brought between men and women.

Now, there are some Christian writers that claim that people who refer to God as She/Her have left orthodox Nicene-Chalcedonian Christianity altogether. Is there a theological surplus that makes room in Nicea-Chalcedon that makes room to discuss the divine feminine? Also, what are the trajectories and ethical implications of including the divine feminine in our liturgical practices and sermons? This I will discuss and more in dialogue with early Christian communities and church historians.

Here is the order of the plan series:

the divine feminine: God the Father

the divine feminine: God the Son

the divine feminine: God the Holy Spirit

the divine feminine: Trajectories and Ethics

the divine feminine: Conclusion