Marcus Peter Johnson on adoption

Marcus Peter Johnson has some helpful comments on adoption in his book One with Christ which I recently reviewed.

‘The term translated “adoption” in the New Testament is unique to Paul’s letters. The Greek term is huiothesia, which Paul uses five times (Rom. 8:15; 9:4; Gal. 4:5; Eph. 1:5). It is a compound of huios (“son”) and thesis (“placing”), and could be literally rendered “placed as sons,” although there is some disagreement among biblical scholars about how best to translate it.’ (157)

‘There may indeed be some merit in attempting to understand Paul’s use of huiothesia against the cultural-linguistic backdrop of his day, but there is compelling reason to think that his use of the term was influenced far more my theological considerations than cultural ones. In other words. when Paul speaks of Christians as “placed as son,” he has at the forefront of his mind our being place in the Son, Jesus Christ.’ (157)

‘As such, Paul is not “reaching” for cultural analogies as conceptual bridges to explain what it means that we are adopted by God; rather, he is working with a more basic theological notion: the Father-son relationship that is intrinsic to God’s own being, and which we come to share by incorporation into Christ.’ (157)

The fact that God adopts us and we thereby become children of God is based in the reality of God’s own relationship with his Son. It is not a reality that is derived from God external to himself – a category of blessing that God creates outside of the Father-Son relationship internal to his being – but an existence that is derived from within God’s communal being as Father and son. That is exactly what is so stunning about adoptive sonship – it is sharing in the Son’s own relationship with the Father: “He who loves me will be loved by my Father.” (John 14:21) There is no adoption, no other way to be children of God, no experience of the fatherly love of God except through the Father’s love for his only begotten Son.’ (150)

 

One with Christ is available here from amazon.com and thinkivp.

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Making a Meal of It

Here’s an article I wrote some time ago on meals and mission for UCCF which has also appeared on the Theology Network site.

How did the Son of Man come? Luke 19:10 and Mark 10:45 tell us why he came – to seek and save the lost; to give his life as a ransom for many. But how did he come? What was his modus operandi? Preaching? Healing? Teaching? He certainly did those things. But Jesus himself says ‘the Son of Man came eating and drinking’ (Luke 7:34). Eating and drinking – a lot. New Testament scholar Robert Karris says: ‘In Luke’s Gospel Jesus is either going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal.’ So much so that his enemies accuse him of being ‘a glutton and a drunkard’ – someone who eats too much and drinks too much. ‘The Son of Man’ is a reference to the representative of God’s people who comes in glory before the Ancient of Days to receive authority over all nations (Daniel 7). What is the Son of Man doing when he comes to earth? The Jews expected him to come with a bang, defeating God’s enemies and vindicating his people. Instead he shares a meal.

Meals are a powerful of expression of welcome and friendship in every culture. This is why Jesus’ meals are so significant – they embody God’s grace and enact God’s mission. Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. Tax collectors were traitors not only to the nation, but also traitors towards God for they were collaborators with the Gentile occupiers who had defiled God’s holy land. So the table companions of Jesus led the Pharisees to conclude that he couldn’t be from God (Luke 5:30; 7:39; 15:1–2). A reasonable conclusion – unless God’s grace is so amazing that it allows him to eat with his enemies and unless God’s grace explodes all our expectations (Luke 5:27–39). Meals are central to the mission of Jesus because they embody and enact the grace of God.
Meals still have this power today. What was true in the culture of first century Palestine is still true in the present day universities and colleges of Britain.

In Luke 14 Jesus is eating at the home of a Pharisee. He suggests we shouldn’t invite our friends to our parties. Instead we should invite ‘the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind’ (Luke 14:13). Why? Because God himself invites ‘the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame’ (Luke 14:21) to his great banquet. Our experience of God’s grace should shape our mission. Often we do things for the needy, which is good. However, it puts us in a position of superiority – we are able; they are unable. We may proclaim grace, but it’s readily interpreted as ‘you should be like me’. But what happens when we eat together? We share food as friends. We sit at the same level around the table. Then we can talk about our shared need of God’s grace. We love to run projects, but nobody wants to be someone’s ‘project’. They want friendship.

It’s not just that the table is a great context for community and mission. Food is central to who we are, how we relate to God and to the story of salvation.

Food reminds us of our dependence on other people. We are tied into a network of farmers, traders, shopkeepers, cooks, families, traditions of gastronomy. Above all we are dependent on God. We are finite beings who need sustenance to sustain us. We need to ‘refuel’. But food is so much more than fuel. Think of all your favourite foods. Steak and chips. Thai green curry. Crumble and custard. It didn’t have to be this way – biscuits would have sufficed to sustain our lives. But God is ridiculously lavish in his creativity and generosity. God’s first act after creating humanity was to present us with a menu: the fruit of all the trees in the garden. Every meal is an opportunity to receive God’s good gifts with thankfulness – perhaps we need to refresh the practice of saying ‘grace’ before meals as an expression of our dependence and God’s generosity – and food is an opportunity for human creativity and generosity in the image of the Creator.

But food is also at the heart of our rejection of God. The very first act of rebellion was an act of eating. Ever since that time, our relationship with food often goes wrong because our relationship with God has gone wrong. We find comfort in food instead of refuge in God. We use food – or avoid food – to make ourselves desirable so others worship us. Our fractured relationships and greed mean many in our world go without food. We over eat. We under eat. Food is integral to our humanity, so it’s no surprise to find that our brokenness shows up in our relationship to food.

Against this backdrop of food-gone-wrong, God promises a feast. Again and again in the Bible salvation is pictured as a feast with God. When God leads the Israelites out of Egypt, the leaders of the people are invited up to Mount Sinai to eat and drink with God (Exodus 24:9–11). The rescue from slavery in Egypt – the defining act of Israelite identity – is itself commemorated in a meal, the meal of Passover. At the high point of Israelite history, in the reign of Solomon, we are told ‘the people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore; they ate, they drank and they were happy’ (1 Kings 4:20). Even when things begin to unravel, God promises another meal on a mountain, ‘a feast of rich food for all people’ (Isaiah 25:6–8). On this occasion death itself will be on the menu and God will swallow it up. This is an eternal feast that no one need ever leave. Jesus provides a foretaste of this feast when he feeds the five thousand. Here is a feast which need never end. Indeed there’s more food at the end than there was at the beginning. It’s a pointer to the fulfilment of God’s promise: that one day we will feast forever in his presence.

So the meals of Jesus represent something bigger. They represent God’s coming world. But at same time they give that new reality substance. They’re the real thing in miniature. Food is stuff, it’s not ideas. It’s something you put in your mouth, something you taste, something you eat. And meals are more than food – they’re social occasions that represent friendship, community, welcome.

Our invitation to the feast of God comes at a price: the precious blood of Jesus his Son. We are outsiders, enemies, excluded. But Jesus takes the judgment we deserve. He becomes the ultimate outsider – pushed out of the world onto the cross; forsaken by his Father. As a result we become insiders, friends, included. The invitation goes out to all.

It’s not an accident that at the heart of what it means to be the church is a meal. Jesus told us to remember him not in a pattern of words, but in a meal (scholars believe communion was celebrated in the early church as part of a meal).

The film Little Miss Sunshine is the story of a girl, Olive, who by default gets through to the regional final of the Little Miss Sunshine beauty contest. So her dysfunctional family head off in their dysfunctional van. She’s a fat girl with big glasses about to enter a beauty contest. At one point Olive says: ‘I don’t want to be a loser because Daddy hates losers.’ Her father is a failed motivational speaker and his conversation consists of clichéd aphorisms that berate people for being losers. The irony, of course, is that he’s a loser and his family are losers. At one point he says, ‘There are two kinds of people in this world: winners and losers.’ On the word ‘losers’ the camera pans round his family: his foul-mouthed father, his suicidal, homosexual brother-in-law, his son who refuses to speak, his down-trodden wife, desperately trying to hold them all together, and himself, the failed businessman who can’t face his failure. And they’re thrown together in a VW van, which is itself dysfunctional – the door falls off, the horn is constantly on and they must push start it every time.

I sometimes look round my congregation and see a bunch of dysfunctional people thrown together, somehow managing to be family. And I smile at the ridiculous grace of God. There’s a moment in the film when they suddenly realise Olive isn’t in the van. They’ve left her behind at a gas station. We see the van moving across the screen in one direction and they whisk her up into it, without stopping (because if they stop they won’t be able to restart it). Then we see the van moving back across in the other direction and we hear the father’s voice: ‘No-one gets left behind, no-one gets left behind.’ That’s the church: the place where no-one gets left behind.

We live in a graceless culture. A culture of competition in which we’re all trying to get ahead. A culture of insecurity in which we’re all trying to prove ourselves. A culture of spite in which we hold grudges, envy success, protect ourselves. In this culture our shared meals offer a moment of grace. A sign of something different. A pointer to God’s coming world. ‘Life in the kingdom,’ says Peter Leithart, ‘demands that we adopt a new set of table manners, and as we observe this etiquette, we become increasingly civilized according to the codes of the city of God.’ Around the table we offer friendship and celebrate life. Our meals offer a divine moment – an opportunity for people to be seduced by grace into a better life, a truer life, a more human existence.

Jesus ate meals with people. If we routinely share meals and we have a passion for Jesus then we’ll almost certainly end up doing mission. It’s not that meals alone save people, people are saved through the gospel message. But meals create natural opportunities to share that message in a context that resonates powerfully with what we’re saying.

One of the great things about mission through meals is that it enfranchises the people of God. We don’t have to understand missiological jargon or hold a crowd with our oratory. We don’t even need to be able to cook. We just need to be people who eat and people who love Jesus.

I’m not suggesting adding something new to your all too busy schedule. You already eat three meals a day – that’s twenty-one ready-made opportunities each week to do mission and community. You could meet up with another Christian for breakfast on the way to work – read the Bible together, offer accountability, pray for one another. You could meet up with colleagues at lunchtime. You could invite your neighbours over for a meal – better still invite them over with another family from church. That way you get to do mission and Christian community at the same time – all the while letting your unbelieving neighbours see the way the gospel impacts our relationships as Christians (John 13:34–35; 17:20–21).

Francis Schaeffer says:

Don’t start with a big programme. Don’t suddenly think you can add to your church budget and begin. Start personally and start in your home. I dare you. I dare you in the name of Jesus Christ. Do what I am going to suggest. Begin by opening your home for community … You don’t need a big programme. You don’t have to convince your session or board. All you have to do is open your home and begin.

My book A Meal with Jesus is available here from amazon.com and ThinkIVP.

Obstacles to prayer

In his book, Praying in the Spirit, John Bunyan identifies five obstacles to prayer:

  1. When men regard iniquity in their hearts, at the time of their prayers before God … (Psalm 66:18; Isaiah 29:13; Ezekiel 33:31) …
  2. When men pray for show, to be heard, and thought somebody in religion … (Matthew 6:7) …
  3. When either men pray for wrong things, or if for right things, yet that the thing prayed for might be spent upon their lusts, and laid out to wrong ends … (James 4:2-4) …
  4. [Prayers] made by men, and presented to God in their own persons only, without their appearing in the Lord Jesus … (John 14:13-15; 15:16; 16:23-26) …
  5. The last thing that hinders prayer is, the form of it without the power … These men are like a painted man, and their prayers like a false voice. They in person appear as hypocrites, and their prayers are an abomination (Proverbs 28:9 … Hosea 7:14). (49-53)

John Bunyan, Prayer, Banner of Truth is available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

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Praying in the Spirit

John Bunyan wrote a book on praying in the Spirit. He said: ‘There is no man nor church in the world that can come to God in prayer, but by assistance of the Holy Spirit.’ ‘If men did see their sins, yet without the help of the Spirit they would not pray.’ ‘There is nothing but the Spirit that can lift up the soul or heart to God in prayer.’ ‘The soul that rightly prays, it must be in and with the help and strength of the Spirit; because it is impossible that a man should express himself in prayer without it.’ He explains:

O how great a task it is, for a poor soul that becomes sensible of sin and the wrath of God, to say in faith but this one world, “Father!” … O! says he, I dare not call him Father; and hence it is that the Spirit must be sent into the hearts of God’s people for this very thing, to cry Abba, Father: it being too great a work for any man to do knowingly and believingly without it.

Without the Spirit we wouldn’t pray. Do an experiment with me. Every day for a month ask the Queen for something. Wherever you are, speak out loud a request to the Queen. I suspect you won’t keep it up for a month because it’s a futile exercise. Try it now. Say out loud, ‘Hello your Majesty. Could I have an invitation to Buckingham Palace?’ It feels stupid. For one thing, she’s not there with you. What’s the point of asking for something when she can’t hear you? And even if she was in the room with you, her likely response would be, ‘Who are you?’ Or perhaps she would just call security to have you removed. She might respond to one of her children, but you have no claim on her.

Why doesn’t prayer feel like this? The answer is that we have the Holy Spirit. When we pray we feel connected to the Father because that’s what’s happening – the Spirit is connecting us to the Father. When we pray we feel the Father hears us because the Spirit assures us that he is our Father (Romans 8:14-16). If the Spirit wasn’t at work in your heart then you just wouldn’t pray. Every time you tried to pray you would feel like a mad man ranting in the street or a child talking to their imaginary friend.

But we do pray, we can pray, we should pray because the Spirit assures that God is our Father who longs to hear us. The Spirit of God enables us to share the experience of sonship that God the Son experiences. That is a glorious gift of grace. It means confidence, intimacy and joy.

Adapted from Tim Chester, You Can Pray, which is available from Amazon.com and ThinkIVP.

John Bunyan, Prayer, Banner of Truth is available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

Forthcoming book – Mission Matters: Love Says Go

I have a new book coming out in May entitled Mission Matters: Love Says Go. It’s a popular-level introduction to world mission. It’s being published by IVP in co-operation with the Keswick Convention.

I’ve just noticed that it’s available for pre-order in the UK here from ThinkIVP.

It looks like it will also be available in US here from amazon.com, but it can’t be pre-ordered yet.

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The patterns of Puritan piety

The following quote is from a sermon by John Eliot and recorded by Cotton Mather. It gives a good feel for the patterns of Puritan piety.

 

Behold, the ancient and excellent character of a true Christian; ’tis that which Peter calls ‘holiness in all manner of conversation’ [1 Peter 1:15]; you shall not find a Christian out of the way of godly conversation.

For, first, a seventh part of our time is all spent in heaven, when we are duly zealous for, and zealous on the Sabbath of God. Besides, God has written on the head of the Sabbath, REMEMBER, which looks both forwards and backwards, and thus a good part of the week will be spent in sabbatizing.

Well, but for the rest of our time! Why, we shall have that spent in heaven, ere we have done. For, secondly, we have many days for both fasting and thanksgiving in our pilgrimage; and here are so many Sabbaths more. Moreover, thirdly, we have our lectures every week; and pious people won’t miss them, if they can help it.

Furthermore, fourthly, we have our private meetings, wherein we pray and sing, and repeat sermons, and confer together about the things of God; and being now come thus far, we are in heaven almost every day.

But a little farther, fifthly, we perform family-duties every day; we have our morning and evening sacrifices, wherein having read the Scriptures to our families, we call upon the Name of God, and ever now and then carefully catechise those that are under our charge.

Sixthly, we shall also have our daily devotions in our closets; wherein unto supplication before the Lord, we shall add some serious meditation upon his word: a David will be at this work no less than thrice a day. Seventhly, we have likewise many scores of ejaculations in a day; and these we have, like Nehemiah, in whatever place we come into.

Eighthly we have our occasional thoughts and our occasional talks upon spiritual matters; and we have our occasional acts of charity, wherein we do like the inhabitants of heaven every day. Ninthly, in our callings, in our civil callings, we keep up heavenly frames; we buy and sell, and toil; yea, we eat and drink, with some eye both to the command and honour of God in all.

Behold, I have not now left an inch of time to be carnal; it is all engrossed for heaven. And yet, lest here should not be enough, lastly, we have our spiritual warfare. We are always encountering the enemies of our souls, which continually raises our hearts unto our

Behold, I have not now left an inch of time to be carnal; it is all engrossed for heaven. And yet, lest here should not be enough, lastly, we have our spiritual warfare. We are always encountering the enemies of our souls, which continually raises our hearts unto our Helper and Leader in the heavens.

Let no man say, ‘Tis impossible to live at this rate’; for we have known some live thus; and others that have written of such a life have but spun a web out of their own blessed experiences. New-England has examples of this life: though, alas! ’tis to be lamented that the distractions of the world, in too many professors, do becloud the beauty of an heavenly conversation.

In fine, our employment lies in heaven. In the morning, if we ask, ‘Where am I to be to day?’ our souls must answer, ‘In heaven.’ In the evening, if we ask, ‘Where have I been to-day?’ our souls may answer, ‘In heaven.’ If thou art a believer, thou art no stranger to heaven while thou livest; and when thou diest, heaven will be no strange place to thee; no, thou hast been there a thousand times before.

 

From Charles E. Hambrick-Stowe, The Practice of Piety: Puritan Devotional Principles in Puritan New England, University of North Carolina Press. The Practice of Piety is available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

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O Lord our Rock, redeeming King

Here’s the second track from the new The Crowded House album for which I wrote the lyrics. They’re based on Psalm 19. I think they’re my best lyrics to date.

Here are the words …

O Lord our Rock, redeeming King,
your truth alone can comfort bring
when we are in distress.
Your perfect law revives the soul
and binds our wounds and makes us whole.
Your promise leads to rest. 

Your precepts make our hearts rejoice
for in your word we hear your voice,
the voice of God above.
Your gospel breaks like break of day
to give us light to light our way,
to walk in paths of love.

Your statutes make your people wise,
illuminating darkened eyes
for your commands are true.
Your word is firm and will endure.
The fear that it evokes is pure
and binds our hearts to you.

Your word is worth far more than gold
for in its pages we behold:
the treasury of Christ.
Its lines upon the tongue are sweet.
They lead us to our Saviour’s feet
and his great sacrifice.

As your decrees are read and taught,
may every word and every thought
be pleasing to you Lord.
Your Spirit’s power to all impart
that Christ may dwell in every heart,
and be our true reward.

May wand’ring hearts be warned from sin.
May troubled souls find peace within.
May Christ be our delight.
Forgive our faults unlock our chains,
and in our lives restore your reign:
our hearts with love ignite.

You can listen to the album and buy it here.

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Jesus the Word

Here’s one of the tracks for which I wrote the lyrics from the new The Crowded House album.

Here are the words …

Jesus the Word speaks in the dark
lighting the spark of all we see
Jesus the Word rules through his promises
Lord over history
Jesus heals with a word and commands the waves
Jesus speaks to the dead and he empties graves

Word of hope from above,
word of light and love,
word of peace ending strife,
bringing joy and life.

Jesus the Word mute at his trial
and when reviled upon the tree
Jesus the Word silenced by violence
drowned out at Calvary
Jesus silent no more as he gathers breath
Jesus steps from the tomb and the grip of death

Jesus the Word message of love
rising above this noisy world
Jesus the Word gathers his people
as his command is heard
Jesus given a name over every name
to the ends of the earth we proclaim his fame

Jesus the Word speaks to our fears
comforts our tears with words of peace
Let all with ears come now and hear his voice
Let all your doubting cease

You can listen to the album and buy it here.

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