Feb 18, 2009

A Theology of Renewal

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Last week, while hidden away in the Bethel Seminary library, I completed my senior statement of faith. The assignment was to select a major theological concept as an integrating motif and run it through all of the major doctrines of the Christian faith. I chose a Theology of Renewal. I relied heavily on the writings of NT Wright, Jurgen Moltmann, Christopher Wright, and Tim Keller. Here is a bit of the introduction…

I believe that in the beginning the triune God, existing in perfect community, created the world, that humanity has fallen into sin and evil and become separated from God, that God has returned to rescue us in Jesus Christ, that in his death and resurrection Jesus accomplished our salvation for us so we can be received by grace, that he established his Church, his people, as the vehicle through which he continues the mission of rescue, reconciliation, and salvation, and that at the end of time Jesus will return to renew the heavens and the earth, removing all evil, injustice, sin, and death from the world.

The coming of the Messianic King is in two stages:

At his first coming, he saved us from the penalty of sin and gave us the presence of the Holy Spirit; But at the end of time, he will come to complete what he began at the first coming, saving us from the dominion and very presence of sin and evil. He will bring a new creation, a material world cleansed of all brokenness (1 Corinthians 15:28).

Christians live now in light of that future reality. We evangelize, telling people about the gospel and preparing them for the judgment. We also help the poor and work for justice, because we know that is God’s will and eventually all oppression will be put down. And we integrate our faith and work, so we can be ‘culture makers,’ working for the common good and human flourishing.

The Christian hope is for God’s new creation, for “new heavens and new earth”, and that hope has already come to life in Jesus’ resurrection (Col 1:18). It is hope, not only for the end times, but for the transformation of lives and communities in the present, generated by the resurrection of Jesus and looking forward to the promised new heavens and new earth.

Christian expectation is about renewal. The beginning of true life, the beginning of the Kingdom of God, and the beginning of the new creation of all things into their enduring form. It proceeds by changing people from the inside out through an ongoing personal relationship with God in Christ and to one another. It penetrates the deepest layers of the soul. It begins to change our ideas, our beliefs as well as our feelings, habits, and relationships. And as people are transformed, social structures will naturally be transformed as well. So much so that one day “justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).

As long as we see salvation in terms of going to heaven when we die, the main work of the church is bound to be seen only in terms of saving souls for that future. But when we see salvation, as the New Testament sees it, in terms of God’s promised new heavens and new earth those future promises can be anticipated through the mission of the church. Through Christ’s death and resurrection the power of evil has been defeated and the new creation has been launched and Jesus’ followers have been commissioned and equipped to put that victory and the inaugurated new world into practice.

Therefore, as followers of Christ we are committed to joining God in the renewal of all things. 

(from Paul Stewart)