Book review: A More Christlike God by Brad Jersak

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Today I have the honour of reviewing Brad Jersak’s soon-to-be-released new book A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel.

“God is like Jesus.”

There has been an increasing chorus of voices making this proclamation in recent times. In my opinion, it’s been a very welcome chorus, because it’s a most necessary message.

But… for all its increasing popularity, if this message is not to become a mere soundbite, it needs to be explained, nuanced, understood in all its myriad implications, and generally shown to be the premier way of understanding what God is like.

Enter Brad Jersak.

I hold Brad in high esteem for two reasons. First, it was listening to him speak about the atonement that spurred me on to the earth-shattering realisation that God did not in any way, shape or form kill Jesus – a seminal moment in my theological journey. And second, I had the privilege of meeting him last year. The opportunity to put a name and a story to a face is worth more than many printed words on pages.

Brad is a Canadian author and teacher based in Abbotsford, British Columbia. His active, ongoing experience in the evangelical and charismatic streams and his interest in the Orthodox Church, in which he is a confirmed Reader, give him a unique perspective on what it means to live out an ancient faith in a modern, fast-changing world. Brad has solid theological credentials and is currently part of the core faculty of Westminster Theological Centre (UK).

One of Brad’s gifts, then, is to take profound and complex theological truths and translate them into language that the rest of us can understand.

So… what are the implications of the statement “God is like Jesus”? Brad basically spends three hundred pages answering this question. Continue reading

Musings on sin

SinI recently got into a long Facebook conversation that basically revolved around the nature of sin and our response to it. I’ve written about this a few times before (do a search), but perhaps it’s worth sharing some of my recent thoughts on the matter.

Essentially, the conversation to which I refer centred around the idea of sin as anything that falls outside “God’s divine order”. I suppose this goes right back to the Ten Commandments: define sin as a list of proscribed behaviours, attach God’s sanction to said list, and you can then safely judge those who engage in such behaviour.

The problem with such a view, it seems to me, is that we all think we know what constitutes acceptable versus unacceptable behaviour… But who is right?

You might say that the Ten Commandments represent a definitive and immutable definition of unacceptable behaviour. But if that’s the case, how come most Christians today are quite happy to turn a blind eye to adultery, which is specifically outlawed by the Decalogue, while denouncing, say, same-sex relationships, which don’t get a mention?

It seems to me that whenever we are drawn into defining sin as a list of rights and wrongs, we are simply continuing to try to live off what Genesis 3 calls the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We take upon ourselves the authority to name good and evil, and we boost our own self-identity and security by identifying those on the evil side of the line and congratulating ourselves for being on the good side. Continue reading

Repost: A new day

This post was first published in April 2014. It follows on from previous posts here and here.

New dayIt is another morning, this time far from the hustle and bustle of the city. Uncertain of what the future held, we had gravitated back to the comfortable familiarity of Galilee. Once here, not knowing what else to do, it had not been long before we were back in our boats.

We spent the whole of last night trawling the lake, and came up with nothing to show for it. And then, just as we were drawing in the nets and preparing to come in, he called out from the shore and told us to try the other side of the boat. Now, the bulging net lies on the ground beside the boat, and we have just finished a hearty breakfast of fish and bread. A breakfast cooked and served to us by him.

Having got up to begin cleaning away the remains of breakfast, I find myself alone with him, a few yards away from the others. This is the third time I’ve seen him since he rose, but the first time we’ve been face to face. Although I am close enough that I could reach out my hand and touch him, something holds me back – there is a distance between us that cannot be bridged by mere touch. There is no doubt in my mind that this Jesus who stands before me now is the very same man I saw die a criminal’s death; God has raised him to new life, just as he said would happen. Which means I cannot escape the conclusion that everything he said about himself is true, that he really is the Messiah, the chosen one, the Son of Man who is Son of God. This – though it defies all logic and human experience – this I can accept, for there are no alternatives that remotely explain the facts. Continue reading

Everything has changed: an Easter Sunday meditation

This post was first published on Easter Sunday 2013. It follows on from my Holy Saturday meditation here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo much has happened in the past week. It seems like only yesterday that we walked triumphantly into Jerusalem on a carpet of palm leaves, our emotions high as the crowd chanted “Hosanna!” None of us could have predicted what would unfold only a few hours later. And yet, looking back, it all seems so clear, and I wonder how I could have failed to see everything he so carefully explained and warned us about. I suppose there are some things you have to experience before you can really understand them. I tried so hard to understand – I wanted to be the one who understood better than anyone – but, as so often, it was in my head that I tried to work it all out and put it all together; it took the furnace of experience to shatter my delusions and finally allow my stubborn, wavering heart to see what had been in front of me all along.

*  *  *  *  *

Never has a sabbath night been so long and so bleak. After he finally let go of life – from the set of his jaw and the look in his eyes, it was almost as though he and he alone decided exactly when it should end – I could not bring myself to stay and watch the morbid proceedings that would inevitably follow. I left that hill in a daze, not knowing who or where I was any more, and not even thinking about where I was going. I stumbled in the darkness of my thoughts even as the sky blackened and the heavens opened; it was as if heaven itself was appalled at the events of that day, and the great drops that fell to the baked earth were the very tears of God. Continue reading

The morning after – A Holy Saturday meditation

(This post was first published on Holy Saturday 2014.)

Dead JesusDeath.

Death hangs heavy in the air. I can smell it, I can feel its oppressive weight, I can taste its cloying, bitter taste in my throat. At this moment, I can see and feel little else; death is everything and everywhere.

The night has seemed to last forever, the agony of regret my only companion. Now, from the shadowy corner where I sit, my knees drawn up to my chest and my head down, I hear stirrings of life as people begin to wake and prepare to go about a new day. The city cares nothing for yesterday or for my sorrow; it presses ahead, resolute and impassive. Life goes on, but not for me. Death is the place I now inhabit.

Yesterday…

No. I try to keep my mind wrapped in the relative safety of today, where all is dark and numb. Yet at the same time some awful compulsion drives me to relive those terrible hours, the way that a high, exposed cliff dares you to peer over the edge, knowing you could plunge to your doom but unable to resist the magnetic draw of the yawning chasm beneath.

How could so much come to pass in one day? And how could so much – so many hopes, dreams and expectations – be undone in a few short hours? My mind screams that it can’t be true, there must be some mistake, you need to wake up and maybe then this nightmare will end. And yet, in some dark corner of my consciousness, another voice taunts, You should have known this was coming. It was clear enough for those who had eyes to see and ears to hear. But I only saw and heard what I wanted to; even when the inevitable truth was staring me in the face, I would not, could not let myself see it. And now… now everything lies in ruins, every flicker of hope and light snuffed out by the cold hand of Death. I can almost hear him cackling faintly, somewhere off in the gloom beyond the edge of sight, amused that anyone could think this might end any other way, that anyone could forget that he always has the final say. Continue reading

Sacrificing God

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“From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ […] Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last.” (Matt 27:45-50)

At the cross, humanity demonstrated its supreme reliance on violent power as the ultimate solution to every problem. The world’s most sophisticated religion combined with its most highly developed civilisation, and together they conspired to do the unthinkable: murder God incarnate.

The event of the cross proved two things beyond the slightest doubt. First, it proved that even the most enlightened and pious human societies are quite willing to soak themselves in innocent blood in order to preserve social cohesion. And second, it proved that God is not like us, and is not as we thought he was. Jesus’ submission to the cross demonstrated once and for all that God will go to any lengths – including his own death – to avoid exercising violent power. German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it this way: “God allowed himself to be edged out of the world and onto the cross.”

Make no mistake: before it was anything else, the cross event was a catastrophe, a calamity, a cataclysm. And yet, beneath its appalling ugliness, it was also a thing of great and resplendent beauty. This is the paradox of the cross: as humanity displayed the depths of its depravity by sacrificing God himself, God submitted to humanity’s bloody demands and, in so doing, revealed with utmost clarity the blazing white heart of love that beats at the centre of all that is. Continue reading

Just another victim

10703329555_5d6256a382_hTomorrow is Good Friday, the day when Christians the world over commemorate the unique, saving death of Jesus. But I think it’s worth taking a moment to pause and ask just what is unique about this death.

If we consider Jesus’ death unusual – and if we believe that its salvific benefits are linked to this unusualness – we would do well to stop and ask what, precisely, was unusual about it.

Death by crucifixion may have been a particularly excruciating and shameful demise, but it was certainly nothing unusual in first century Palestine. Famed Romano-Jewish historian Flavius Josephus made several references to the widespread occurrence of this gruesome practice in his Antiquities. Indeed, according to Josephus, the Romans routinely crucified hundreds and even thousands of victims at the first sign of revolt. We cannot say, then, that there was anything particularly unique about the physical nature of Jesus’ death, however grisly it may appear to our modern sensibilities.

You might advance that Jesus’ death was unique by virtue of his absolute innocence. But again, I would say history is against you. If the Roman occupiers crucified two thousand people in one day on charges of insurrection, it’s a racing certainty that a good number of those strung up were either absolutely innocent or, at the very least, completely justified in their revolt against a wholly unjust oppressor.

We can thus conclude that whatever may have been unique about Jesus’ death, it was neither the appalling mechanics of it nor the fact of Jesus’ innocence. Continue reading