Active awareness of the anatomy of the Gospel as key to spiritual formation in Christian education. Part 3 of 3: Glorification


The time has finally come to conclude this blog series, as I also conclude this school year and the year overall as well. My writing fell off a cliff the last couple of months as other priorities anchored me to other tasks. It feels good, right and appropriate to have waited until now to reflect on the wonderful doctrine of glorification and it’s implications on my life and particularly in Christian education.

In part one I laid out the need for a robust understanding and active awareness of justification as critical to a distinctive learning and working environment for Christian education.

In part two I laid out the need for a robust understanding and active awareness of sanctification as critical to the same ends.

Now I turn to glorification, and I’m glad to on many levels. In justification we are saved from the eternal penalty of sin by the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. In sanctification we are being saved from the power of sin day by day, which is made possible by Christ’s justifying work, and enabled by the Holy Spirit’s presence and power in us helping us fight sin day by day until we die or Christ returns. But what happens then, why does it matter, and why is it crucial to spiritual formation in Christian education?

Justification achieves it’s goal, it saves us completely from the penalty of sin. But sanctification has a goal yet to be realized, and that goal is to make us perfect, just like God is perfect.

48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Mt 5:48)

Glorification is the truth that one day we will be saved from the very presence of sin and evil. Justification saves us from sins penalty, sanctification is saving us from sins power, and there is an end to that, and that end is when we are glorified, made perfect, and our salvation is complete when we die or he returns.

There are many worldviews one can have. There are many ways, both subtle and not so subtle, that competing worldviews will take root and corrupt the Christian worldview by attaching itself to it. Most worldviews have a goal of some form of their own version of glorification. The perfect humans, the perfect cities, the perfect world, that is built by that worldview’s version of a superior class or race or religion. Christians don’t believe in a man made utopia, but that God through Christ by the Spirit’s power is preparing us to be perfect in a redeemed world that he is preparing to dwell with us in once Christ returns.

3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Php 1:3–6)

Without a deep understanding of this and an ongoing and active awareness, two potential pitfalls present themselves. One is pride. We will allow humanistic worldviews to seep in and corrupt the truth that only God has the power and the effective plan for making things perfect, and saving us from the evil that is within and without. We will believe in the power of men to save and put our hope in them and ourselves otherwise. The second is despair. We, as Christian educators, could allow a nihilistic worldview to corrupt the truth that God has a definite plan and purpose for the evil and sin in the world, and that he is and will save us completely in the end. We will believe in the absolute power of the evil we see and experience and lose all hope and devalue life including our own if we fail at this.

Glorification is the truth that is the antidote to pride and despair, and it completes a full picture of our spiritual formation from beginning to end, and it must actively penetrate every facet of the Christian education initiative wherever it is found such that all involved are actively aware. We must remember, and remind often, we must consider it at every turn with every decision.

Personally, if it weren’t for these truths, which are so masterfully and beautifully captured in the pages of the Bible, and so incredibly teased out through the history of salvation from the beginning of time, through church history and to the present day, I would not teach at a Christian school. I definitely would not teach the Bible. And I certainly would not do it in an international context where I am misunderstood, constantly put in positions where I can only fail, and treated like an outsider most of the time. In spite of all that, fighting to make Christ known fully, to make the details of his grace actively known and not passively assumed, is worth it. It’s the only thing that’s worth it to me. I don’t always live or act like that, because I am weak and easily distracted, but I have been saved from sin’s eternal penalties, I am being saved from it’s destructive power day by day, and one day maybe I’ll forget what sin ever felt like, because I’ll be in a glorified state with Christ for thousands of years, perfect and purified. If I don’t have that, I have nothing. If I do have it, I have everything.

This concludes a rough and tumble display of my firm convictions and beliefs about the anatomy of the Gospel and it’s critical role in the spiritual formation of staff and students at Christian education institutions. I hope it has been helpful, or at least a decently presented grouping of ideas to disagree with or improve upon.

Beyond requirement in theological education: a reflection on longing

Though I’ve tried to change this about myself many times, my singular passion is for theological education. I wish I could switch, I’ve tried, but it stays with me.

One of the frustrations with theological education is that for many Christian traditions it is required in order to officially lead in any capacity. Many jobs within Christian institutions are reserved for those with official training of some kind, with official documentation. I’m certainly not against training, merely the result of taking a movement built by the unschooled and ordinary and putting them through a system to make them, at least seemingly, schooled and extraordinary. Many Christian leaders in the making have a passion for a great number of things, all filtered through the singular belief that Jesus Christ and his gospel will bring about his kingdom of peace, joy, love and truth. When that passion is pushed through the sieve of  institutionalized theological education the result is often varied, and too often with unfettered passion diminished under the weight of canned knowledge.

One of my primary theses regarding theological education is that it doesn’t have to be like this. We can acquire the necessary and helpful knowledge without losing passion, and even have them serve one anther. Even as a middle and high school Bible teacher, this is my goal (albeit a bloody challenge, no doubt).

I was reflecting on issues related to this this morning, and contemplating moments in my own formal training that were positively transcendent. For instance, in an otherwise dry Hebrew class when the professor sang “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood” before exegeting  Isaiah 53, pausing to explain what each detail had meant to him personally over the years, and the entire class had done more than learned about Hebrew Grammar, Jewish history, prophetic imagery, Old Testament Christology and Biblical theology, we were worshiping Christ through all of it.

In this brief reflection I just want to share an idea. Theological education happens in and out of formal training, and in all contexts I believe it transcends mere knowledge acquisition with at least one key ingredient, a deep sense of longing. And this, while always a challenge, is most helped by a pastoral teacher whose heart is heavy with gospel saturation so that with everything they do the blood of Christ is dripping everywhere.

More on this later…

Gary Vaynerchuck as postmodern Rabbi in an age of failing Christian leaders – part 3

I may come back to this topic eventually, or something similar, but I want to wrap it up and move on for now.

I think my major takeaway from these reflections is that despite efforts in American Christianity to distinguish its institutions from culture in order to speak to culture, there is a rather rabid syncretism occurring at the most innate levels. To be sure, there are many great, wonderful and humble Christian leaders in the U.S. and around the world. My observations are about the rise of mega Christian brands of some magnitude, and the mass of people who are following their example without a second thought. Religious leaders have the dangerous task serving the broken without playing on the brokenness for personal gain. What stands out to me about Gary Vaynerchuck and his ilk is that in a great number of ways I have seen him serve people in more selfless and constructive ways with more honesty and self awareness then many Christian leadership circles that I have participated in or been close to.

I could have easily written a series of posts about what Christian leaders could or should be learning from the likes of Gary about leadership in any number of ways. But that would only serve to prop up the syncretism that I view as damaging. There are certainly helpful lessons to learn, the same way Moses learned from Jethro about practical leadership issues. However, there is something more fundamental at play in the current of Christian leadership, and that is the massive difference between being a caring, thoughtful, pastoral version of some other vocation, and being a Pastor. I know the lines can blur, but popular Evangelical leadership culture has adopted modern leadership and self-branding tactics wholesale. To say everything there is to say about this confluence of issues would be humanly impossible, and to say all I have to say about it would require book length treatises; maybe one day. I know there are debates over the very definitions of these words in the church context. What exactly is a pastor? What is leadership? Whatever the answer, it cannot be ignored that with the decline of a unified Christendom there has been a colossal rise in tribal empires of large local churches and ministries building followings and competing for followers, dollars and influence of all kinds. Some achieve this with more grace than others, but when their leaders fall, the full weight of the cult of personality is felt, and the weight of Christian celebrity takes it’s toll. There is such an increase of such situations that there are regular articles in major Christian news sources telling new stories of such events. Somehow, all around, there are still attempts to achieve similar reach the fallen once had, just to do it better. There is a significant lack of wisdom regarding the fact that just because the leaders with the largest ministries get more speaking  and writing gigs that doesn’t represent the sanctioning of God on what they are doing, nor a demonstration of their practices being the best.

In conclusion, my hope for myself and others, is that we can exercise some very sobering discernment about exactly what our goals are, and what they should be. If we are entrepreneurs who want to help people while building our business, let us never tire, and may that help spread far and wide. May we be the most pastoral entrepreneurs the world has ever seen, and may many be blessed and come to know Christ. But let’s never deny the fact that we are directly benefiting from it too, with a tactic that can only be considered philanthropic marketing. If we be Pastors though, the stakes are too high, and the dangers too great, to ever peddle the Gospel or the ministry for gain. Testimonies are not organic marketing, baptisms are not fertile ground for social media virality, church growth milestones are not metrics to share with investors for the next round of funding, and sermons are not strategic content production for podcasting. I know we are surrounded by cheap access to tools built to spread information, and we want our very special message to spread. But we should be careful that the gospel of Christ is not obstructed with our particular brand. We have a teacher, granting access to any that will follow him. We are disciples of this rabbi, followers who simply help others follow him like us. If we are not careful we will just be another Christian leader who has fallen victim to the blindness of pride as it takes on one of its many sinister manifestations.

But even if we are careful, and we secure a great personal following by mixing the Gospel of Christ with our particular brand of insight and wisdom, we should ask ourselves if we are disciples or just another drop in a growing sea of postmodern rabbis.