Thirty-Three Propositions from Eph. 2:1-10

Eph. 2:1-10 reads as such:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

There are some things to be derived from this passage. These are thirty-three of them:

  1. Paul’s readers were previously “dead” in their “trespasses”.
  2. Paul’s readers were also previously “dead” in their “sins”.
  3. They used to “walk” in their “trespasses” and “sins”, but not anymore.
  4. When they “walked” in their “trespasses” and “sins”, they did so “according to the ways of this world”.
  5. When they “walked” in their “trespasses” and “sins”, they did so “according to the ruler who exercises authority over the lower heavens”.
  6. The “ruler who exercises authority over the lower heavens” is “the spirit now working in the disobedient”.
  7. Both Paul and his readers previously lived among “the disobedient”.
  8. When they lived among the disobedient, they “in our fleshly desires”.
  9. When they were living “in our fleshly desires” among “the disobedient”, they “carried out the inclinations of their flesh.”
  10. When they were living “in our fleshly desires” among “the disobedient”, they also “carried out the inclinations of our … thoughts”
  11. During the time when they lived “in our fleshly desires” among “the disobedient” and carried out the “inclinations” of their “flesh” and “thoughts”, they were “children under wrath”.
  12. When they were “children under wrath”, they were so in the same way “as the others were also”.
  13. God is “rich in mercy”.
  14. God had “great love” for Paul and his readers.
  15. God “made us alive with the Messiah”.
  16. God did this even “though we were dead in trespasses”.
  17. The reason that God “made us alive with the Messiah” is “because of His great love that He had for us”.
  18. Paul’s readers “are saved by Grace”.
  19. God raised Jesus “up and seated” Jesus “in the heavens”.
  20. God raised us up “together with Christ Jesus” and “seated play the immeasurus in the heavens”.
  21. He did this to “display the immeasurable riches of His grace.”
  22. The “immeasurable riches of His grace” are displayed “through His kindness to us”.
  23. The “immeasurable riches of His grace”, which are displayed “through His kindness to us in Christ Jesus” will be displayed “in the coming ages”.
  24. Paul’s readers are saved by grace “through faith”.
  25. To be “saved by grace through faith” is something that “is not from yourselves”.
  26. To be “saved by grace through faith” is “God’s gift”.
  27. Paul’s readers are not saved “by/from works”.
  28. The “faith” through which Paul’s readers are “saved by grace” is not, itself, a work.
  29. Because Paul’s readers are “saved by grace through faith”, which is “not from yourselves” and “not from works” but is “God’s Gift”, thus “no one can boast”.
  30. Paul and his readers are “God’s workmanship”.
  31. Paul and his readers were “created in Christ Jesus”.
  32. “Good works” is that for which Paul and his readers were “created in Christ Jesus”.
  33. The “good works” for which Paul and his readers were “created in Christ Jesus” were “prepared beforehand that we should walk in them”.

Most of my posts are extended comedy routines about things I find important, but not this one. I could write for ages about why Eph. 2:1-10 is funny, and important, but today it can speak for itself. Go do some good works that God prepared beforehand.

Time Isn’t The Key To Evolution, But Design May Be

Destruction_of_Leviathan

“Destruction of Leviathan”. 1865 engraving by Gustave Doré

Historically, the Christian religion has understood the world to be something like the stage upon which the drama of cosmic history plays out. Although there has been a diversity of understanding within Christian tradition regarding the nature of the world, it could be generally summarized by saying that it consists in both physical, observable creatures and objects and spiritual, non-observable creatures and objects. Those things which are physical and observable can be seen either plainly (with the naked eye) or under the proper circumstances (i.e. bacterium, microbes; with the proper equipment). Those things which are spiritual and non-observable can only be seen by being revealed.

The many Christianites have never been ambiguous regarding this matter: God and the world are not one-and-the-same. Although the Biblical worldview posits that God actively engages the world, it is postulated with equal clarity that the Creator is not a creature. Such pantheistic theories of God’s “oneness with the universe” are not only theologically problematic; they are nonsensical. Theism alone, Christian or not, can make sense of the universe. How? The relative orderliness of the universe – now, I said relative orderliness – is unlikely to have been achieved in the approximately 15 billion years since the hypothesized “Big Bang,” and the complex and functional creatures that operate within said world likely would not have formed unguided in the span of the approximately 4 billion years since life began, if I understand correctly. Time isn’t the answer to evolution. Design may be.

The sheer existence of the world demands a catalyst. The Bible itself does not actually teach Creation ex Nihilo (creation out of nothing) with any clarity, but creation ex nihilo is philosophically inevitable, and that means that means that a catalyst is also philosophicaly inevitable. More specifically, the relative orderliness of everything demands that it was a conscious catalyst. Nevertheless, amidst the order is a cruel chaos that pervades every corner of existence. The “problem of evil” doesn’t actually go far enough in diagnosing the depth of the universe’s brokenness. It’s not just that “bad things happen to good people.” The whole machinery of the universe runs on suffering. The balance of the ecosystem is contingent upon the innate violence of the creatures therein. As it is now, the world can only run if things die, and often. This phenomenon is well illustrated in this David Attenborough quote:

“I think of a parasitic worm that is boring into the eye of a boy sitting on the bank of a river in West Africa, that’s going to make him blind. And are you telling me that the God you believe in, who you also say is an all-merciful God, who cares for each one of us individually, are you saying that God created this worm that can live in no other way than in an innocent child’s eyeball? Because that doesn’t seem to me to coincide with a God who’s full of mercy.”

David Attenborough’s reaction to the apparent cruelty of the world is more-or-less universal. The phenomenon grates against a moral sense that is so deeply ingrained in humanity that we cannot think past it. We cannot transcend our sense of morality; we can only think in terms of it. Even those who have sought to develop a philosophical system that negates the objectivity of moral truth claims in order to prevent oppressive coercion do so ought of a perceived moral obligation to prevent oppressive coercion. Hence, given the innate moral sense with which specifically human creatures are endowed, it would seem that our conscious catalyst has an agenda. He is doing something, and the world is the stage on which this something is taking place.

The idea that there exists a conscious catalyst who has an agenda for the world alleviates more-or-less all of the objections brought against macro-evolution by its detractors, both religious and irreligious. That does not mean that macro-evolution is true, and that fact that it does not mean that macro-evolution is true does not, itself, mean that macro-evolution is not true. It only means that theistic evolution, specifically within the context of the Christian faith, is a remarkably coherent system. The problems that plague non-theistic incarnations of macro-evolution do not plague theistic evolution. And the philosophical problems raised by theistic evolution are summarily met when theistic evolution is coupled with a specifically Christian worldview.

The relative orderliness of the world ought to be expected given the Christian doctrine of design. The cruel chaos that pervades the evolutionary process ought to be expected given the Christian doctrine of the Fall. Moreover, the meta-narrative of macro-evolution is rendered meaningful, because the conscious catalyst’s agenda means that the cruelty of existence is not the result of nature’s indifference but of creation’s rebellion, it is what Ancient Near-Eastern mythology referred to as Leviathon, which the catalyst Himself has entered into history as a Jewish carpenter to reconcile to Himself.

Humans Are Seekers, Not Survivors

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Tower of Babel, by Lucas van Valckenborch, 1594, Louvre Museum

Human history is haunted by variegated expressions of religious faith, which is fascinating. To the best of our knowledge, humans are unique in the universe inasmuch as we are genuinely sentient. We have the capacity to make moral decisions both as individuals and as communities that are not fundamentally oriented around the survival of our species. Of course the macroevolutionary model is true, but it’s also the case that we operate on terms irreconcilable with a purely materialistic understanding of the evolutionary process. We are not chiefly survivors; we are chiefly seekers.

The Austrian-Jewish neurologist and psychotherapist Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, devoted his post-WWII years to popularizing his theory that, rather than survival (as some Darwinists might have taught) or pleasure (as some Freudians certainly taught), meaning was the dominant pursuit of mankind. He argued that the search for meaning unconsciously motivates the decisions that we make, from Abraham’s desire for children to Jacob’s desire for blessing, to Paul’s desire for redemption.

Reductive though it may be, it is a helpful paradigm. Whatever we are, we are not merely the next step in the evolutionary meta-narrative (and it is a meta-narrative). We are creatures who seek out meaning and find it in places where it may or may not exist. Inevitably, then, we are creatures who seek God. Not only do we seek Him where He is (e.g. Noah, and Enoch), we also seek Him where He isn’t (“Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” Rom. 1:22-23).

As far as I know, chimpanzees, who share approximately 98% of our DNA, are neither religious nor superstitious. Something is abnormal about humanity, and it probably comes down to more than simply something maverick in that remaining 2%. Plenty of theories have been put forth to explain them, and they’re not boring. But they’re also not terribly convincing. The various secular attempts to account for mankind’s insatiable religious bent are no more persuasive than the hypothesis, put forward by all cultures everywhere until relatively recently, that humanity was created by a personal being (or beings) who intends to have a relationship of sorts with us.

I’m a big fan of Yann Martel’s book Life of Pi. I originally read it as a freshman in high school, about a year before becoming a Christian. And I totally didn’t get it. On this side of the faith line, it’s much more resonant, and it provides about as good an apologetic as can be made for the existence of the divine. Granted, there is plenty to be said for classical apologetics. Despite the impassioned “Nuh-uhs” of the New Atheists, the Cosmological argument really, really is weighty. As are most of the arguments that occupy the arsenal of the average apologist.

But as a human on planet earth, living a life that takes place chiefly outside of an office with a desk, Martel’s “story to make you believe in God” really is all that. In the book, the narrator tells two stories, both of which bring about the same conclusion by all empirical evidences. One features his narrator surviving 277 days at sea on a life raft with a hungry Bengal tiger named Richard Parker, stumbling onto a “a floating island network of carnivorous algae,” and crossing paths with a cannibalistic survivor from another shipwreck. The second story has none of the more fantastical elements. He then poses the question: with both stories satisfying the empirical data, which was the better story?

It is conceivable that humanity’s seeker bent is somehow conducive to our flourishing as a species. But it’s equally conceivable, and bloody well more intuitive, that something more is at play.

God Gets His Hands Dirty

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The Seventh Plague: John Martin’s painting of the plague of hail and fire (1823)

“Then the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, When Pharaoh says to you, ‘Prove yourselves by working a miracle,’ then you shall say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and cast it down before Pharaoh, that it may become a serpent.'”  So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the Lord commanded. Aaron cast down his staff before Pharaoh and his servants, and it became a serpent. Then Pharaoh summoned the wise men, and the sorcerers, and they, the magicians of Egypt, also did the same by their secret arts. For each man cast down his staff, and they became serpents. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs. Still, Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said.” (Exodus 7: 8-13)

A consistent, though rarely dealt with, theme throughout the Pentateuch  is that, for the sake of redemption, God gets His hands dirty.

The Hebrew scholars tell me that the word used for ‘serpent’ in this passage is tannin, which is interesting because it differs from the word nachash used in Exodus 4:2-5 when God initially explains the signs to Moses. The significance lies in the connotations that each of the terms carry. Nachash is the term used in Genesis 3:1 in reference to the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Tannin, on the other hand, was more commonly used in reference to the sea monsters that pervaded ancient Canaanite, Phoenician, and Hebrew mythology. More specifically, the sea dwelling tannin were (generally) understood as the creaturely personification of chaos and evil.

Aaron’s staff is turned into a serpent (tannin), a feat that is then copied by Pharaoh’s magicians, and the serpent (tannin) that God produced out of Aaron’s staff devours the serpent (tannin) produced by the magicians. If the tannin described in this passage elsewhere refers almost universally to the anti-creational forces of chaos that oppose the rule of God, then it’s unlikely that the passage at hand is an exception. The initial showdown described in Exodus 7:8-13 is not, theologian Peter Enns has pointed out, merely a showdown between Pharaoh and Moses/Aaron. Nor is it a showdown between Pharaoh and Israel. At one level, it is a showdown between Pharaoh and Yahweh. But even that is too myopic a reading. What we witness in this passage is foreshadowing of the drama that will ensue throughout the rest of the Pentateuch, and the rest of the Biblical narrative as a whole: the Creator of the universe overcomes the chaotic forces of darkness (tannin) that have usurped the world on their own terms. He will overcome tannin, sometimes, inevitably, by employing tannin.

God is not Deistically removed from the plight of creation, looking down in stoic disapproval at the mess we’ve made; He is Theistically active in the redemption of creation, to the point that He will work within the bounds of the fallenness of the world to rescue it. Hence, God will spill blood in the process of bringing about the end of blood-spilling. God will bring about an end to human violence, sometimes, inevitably, through Divine violence. Throughout the scriptures, and especially the Old Testament, God wears the warrior hat, not because He is fond of violence, but because He is bringing about its end. In the pages of the Torah we watch Yahweh crush a thousand Pharaohs in order that one day the may never be another Lamech. (Gen. 4:23-24)

That is why the satisfied God, who created all things to share in His own satisfaction, will enact plagues on Egypt (Ex. 7:14-11:10, 12:29-32): in order to further His redemptive operation. It is true that Egypt was met with the consequences of their communal oppression of the Israelites. But at a more foundational level, God’s act of vengeance on Egypt was driven by His love for the world – a love that moved Him to get His hands dirty. I’m about to cross the line with some people’s patience here: this is why the same God revealed in Jesus Christ (Col. 1:15; John 1:18; Heb. 1:3), the God who is Love (1 John 4:8,16), ordered the slaughtering of the Canaanites and others (Deut. 20:17; Josh. 6:21). This is why the God who “desires that all would repent and be saved” (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9) would harden the heart of Pharaoh and bring him to his knees (Ex. 11:8-10).

The horrific violence performed and sanctioned by God throughout the biblical narrative, far from being a break from character, emanates from His own faithfulness to His promise to bring about redemption to a sin-shattered world. It is, in fact, a deeper, warmer love than is intelligible to us that prevents Yahweh from being deterred from His project of reconciling the world to Himself by His own innate desire to preserve the lives of those who would prevent Him. In the endeavor to bring about a kingdom that operates on love, He cannot tolerate those who persist in hate. What the story of the Torah teaches us, amongst other things, is that God so loved the world that He was willing to work within the bounds of its fallenness to rescue it.

There Are No Magic Jesus Powers

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“And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. And he asked them, ‘What are you arguing about with them?’ And someone from the crowd answered him, ‘Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.’ … And Jesus asked his father, ‘How long has this been happening to him?’ And he said, ‘From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’ And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, ‘You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.’ And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, ‘He is dead.’ But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ And he said to them, ‘This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.'” (Mark 9:14-29)

“This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” means that there are no magic Jesus powers. His healing ministry was not from His own power. He was not a magician. Contrary to popular misconceptions that assume that Jesus came to earth as some sort of Superhuman, Mark finds it very important to show us that Jesus’s miraculous exploits were the product of His being in step with the Holy Spirit through prayer. It is essential to historic Christian theology that when God the Son came to earth, He did so without any special advantages. He was a regular Jew with a 9 to 5 and a mom. All of the miraculous feats He performed, all of the counter-cultural teaching that He espoused, His supernatural compassion and concern for the outcast, His boldness, were all the product of His submission to and communion with God the Spirit, who indwelt Him.

This is important to grasp, in no small part because it clears the confusion that Jesus stirs up when He says to the original gathered Church, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12) He really meant that we would do more than He did, not because we would be more powerful, but because as the Church multiplies and lost sinners are transformed into Spirit-filled believers, the ministry of Jesus itself multiplies and expands. Before His crucifixion, there was one Jesus who made disciples and incarnated the kingdom of God in the midst of a  broken world. Today, 2000 years after His resurrection, it is as though there are approximately 2.2 billion Jesuses walking the earth.

“This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” also means that our ability to do anything spiritual, be it cast out demons (yeah, that actually happens), win souls for Christ, or overcome the darkness in us, comes from helpless dependence on God. We are not prayer warriors; the Holy Spirit is a prayer warrior. When we pray for ourselves, whether it’s for a greater love for the Father, a greater freedom from sin, a more obedient heart, etc., we are echoing the Holy Spirit’s earnest prayers on our behalf (Rom. 8:23, 26-27). Jesus walked in utter dependence on the Holy Spirit’s guidance as an incarnated human. We are no less dependent now that He indwells us. Every Christian believes in the Holy Spirit, but ‘believing’ in Him in any meaningful sense means living in a ‘dethroning’ submission to His lead. The person who believes in the Holy Spirit is always in prayer to seek His guidance. She is always communing with Him in prayer to know the Father more intimately. She is always laying down what remains of her stubborn will in prayer to let Him mold her into the image of Christ.

“This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” because we can only “do greater things than these” as people who are pathetic, weak, and like Jesus, are desperately dependent on the Spirit of God to enable us to find and carry out the will of God.

There’s a Place At the Table for the “Faithless”

Ryan Ellington

SaintThomas The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio

I am not God. That is ultimate reality. But only because it contains so much in so few words. “I am not God,” means that God exists. I can reason my way into an explanation for the universe that does not require a creator, but that isn’t the point. God is present in the statements, “God does not exist,” and “There is no God.” I think that you can commune with God, live with Him and love Him with the best part of yourself if you struggle and even fail to believe with your head and your gut that He is real.

The Christian religion recognizes the contradictions in man. We believe, and walk against the grain of our defining beliefs. God promises rest to people who need it. The God revealed in Jesus, who is Jesus, invites one and all to His table…

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