Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Reading “A More Christlike God, by Bradley Jersak #2

Jersak_thumb_thumbI am continuing reading through, for my New Testament devotions, A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel, by Bradley Jersak. This post ends section one of the book in which Jersak makes the case that we must filter  our understanding of all the biblical revelation of who God is through its ultimate revelation, the crucified Christ. I am posting from my reading in New Testament theologies and devotionals on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

Chapter 3, Freedom or Love? Competing Values in Western Culture, compares "the two principal competing images of God throughout the history of religion: the God of pure will (or freedom) and the God of pure love (or goodness)." Which of these two is the higher moral value? Even though these two seem to compete, even in the Bible, a Christlike view of God must place love in the supreme position. Placing freedom as the primary value skews freedom and changes justice into satisfying human desire and personal whims. God, the only being absolutely free from external control, in Jesus, does not serve Himself but gives Himself over to die. Jesus calls us, in the same way, to pick up our cross and follow Him. The idea that service leads to freedom is counter-intuitive, but it is the Christlike way.

Christ commands us to love our enemies and to overcome evil with good. He calls us to make love our first allegiance—and his love frees us to do so. Freedom in Christ, ironically, is freedom from the tyranny of our own paranoia-producing self-will and fear-driven self-preservation, which we’ve tragically mislabeled ‘freedom.’ 51

When freedom is primary, the will becomes self-centered, then dominates others, and finally becomes captive to its own demands. But there is another way. 55

Christ’s love is the true freedom—freedom to love, empowered by our risen Love! Love-sponsored freedom sacrificially serves one’s siblings-in-Christ, extends mercy to the needy, and lays down its life in the cause of justice. 58

In chapter 4, God of Will or God of Love? The Willful God in Biblical Religion, Jersak defends love as the essence of God rather than divine freedom or will. This is critical because what we believe about God determines our ethical mindset. Jersak sees theologies that emphasize God's freedom over His love as being behind excesses such as the Crusades and the bloody revolution of Oliver Cromwell, and continuing to affect the church through "New Calvinist" theology which emphasizes scriptures that seem to say that God commands and wills evil. Jersak is pushing against interpreting these Biblical passages through this lens and instead insists we read and understand them through the revelation of God as a gracious, merciful restorer as in Exodus 34.6 and especially through Jesus' willing sacrifice of Himself on the cross.

The Old Testament can depict God as vengeful, but also reveals him as gracious—it may describe him as violent, but also shows him to be merciful. He’s not to be reduced to a retributive warrior—Yahweh is first and foremost all about restoration. It depends what lenses you’re wearing as you read the Hebrew records. 74

The real problem is the portrait of a God whose un-Christlike naked will eclipses love and trumps grace—a coercive force incongruent with Christ’s cruciform revelation of his Father’s love. 76

When religion represents God’s will as absolute—the primary attribute of his nature—an idolatrous and un-Christlike portrait of God emerges. Competing and contradictory images inevitably pop up everywhere. Our theology and even our Bible begins to unravel. 79 

Jersak ends the first section, What is God?, in chapter 5 with a section on the incarnation of Jesus, Word Made Flesh The Christlike God. The big point of this chapter is that God has always (eternally) had exactly the character that Jesus perfectly displayed in human form. Jesus reveals God's sovereignty, not through domination and force, but through humble service and self-giving love which finds its greatest expression in the cross. We cannot split apart the character and actions of the Father from the Son. In the cross we see the love of the Father and His desire to "reconcile the world" (2 Cor. 5.19) to Himself. God must ultimately be understood through what Jesus did, and allowed to be done to Him, on the cross.

So, in the flesh and blood person of Jesus, we have the only life ever lived that perfectly reveals the true nature of God, as far as it can be revealed in a human being. New Testament writers...insist he was and is the exact image of God’s essence, the precise imprint of God’s being (Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:13). 83

Yes, Jesus Christ reveals the power, sovereignty and victory of the God’s kingdom. But in so doing, he undermines our default notions of power, sovereignty and victory. In fact, Jesus forever redefines our vision of God-as-king! Christ indeed is our king, but the Cross reveals that he is a lowly king...Christ’s humility reflects his own character, and also reveals the eternal nature of God. 89-90

The Good News is that he is looking to rescue and lift up the lowly (the humiliated) and, at the same time, wants to reproduce his lowliness (humility) in us...Christ’s lowliness of humility is a revelation of the Father’s humility. Humility is an eternal attribute of God that we see in the Incarnation and especially in the Passion. 90

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