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Saturday, 28 December 2013

New Creation Revisited

I actually wrote this last week but forgot to post it as Christmas took over! Belated Happy Christmas to all my readers. 

I said in my last post that in the past I (perhaps in keeping with many in the charismatic world) understood 2 Cor.5:17 to mean that because the old has gone and the new has come, I and others need no longer struggle with stuff from our 'old' lives. If I did, it was because I was not exercising enough faith in this truth (early in my Christian life I actually doubted whether I truly was a Christian when I did struggle). In reality, some of us needed help with major issues in our internal worlds but we were told or told ourselves (or the message was 'in the air' in some way) that we just needed to have more faith or 'come into a greater revelation.'

Now I do believe that the 'eyes of our heart' need opening up to spiritual realities and that growing revelation and realization of our new identity in Christ is absolutely fundamental to the Christian life. But it is about how we understand it and the application or outworking of it that I have questions. Although I think some specific, individual verses so encapsulate a vital principle that it is understandable and legitimate (up to a point) that they are lifted out of context, we should go back to their original context to check we are are understanding them correctly.

One of the key issues in 2 Corinthians is that Paul is dealing with those who are challenging the authenticity of his apostleship and he specifically brings up the whole issue of not judging by outward factors (see 5:12). He is assuring his readers that his motivation is not to please himself but to live for the Christ who has died for him (5:14-15); and that one consequence of this new way of living from new values is that he does not judge people outwardly (and he is painfully aware that this is what he did even in relation to Christ before his conversion - see 5:16) but sees them from a whole new perspective. The perspective he now views them from is this: the new creation of the future age to come has already burst in upon this world through the death and resurrection of Christ! Everything has changed now because of this and he views everyone and everything from this perspective, including the fact that our purpose in life as Christians is to tell people about this ultimate new reality - that God is in Christ reconciling the whole world to himself (5:18-21), another way of saying He is restoring all things, or making all things new. In the middle of this, he writes:
if anyone is in Christ, new creation (the 'he is a' is not in the original)
The point is not so much that they are made into new people (though I think that is part of it, rightly understood) but that they live from a totally new reality; they are no longer defined by this present and passing age but by the new resurrection age, the new creation. This means new and different values, perspectives, sense of identity, ways of evaluating, priorities etc. We don't live by this world but by the better way of a different kingdom. It is perhaps best summarized by what Jesus says of his followers in John 17:16, quoting from The Message version:
They are no more defined by the world than I am defined by the world.
This is a longer post than I planned. Next post will say more about how we view past and present struggles and brokenness in the light of this new creation reality.

Monday, 16 December 2013

A New Creation? Yes, but....

Following on from my last post, I want to start a few posts on the healing journey. It has to start with a key issue that has been vital for me to work through in recent years. I believe in the amazing truth of 2 Cor.5:17:
'...anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!' (NLT)
The reality of the new creation - our new identity and new nature in Christ (as a present anticipation of 'all things made new' of the future age to come) - is a vitally important truth that I receive and celebrate with gratitude. The 'Yes, but...' of this post's title refers to the understanding and outworking of that truth in the Christian life and especially as it relates to responding to the experience of our own and others' brokenness and mess in our internal worlds.

The expression of faith that I learned from early on in my Christian life included the simplistic reading of this passage that meant because 'the old has gone and the new has come' my past, and any pain and damage associated with it, was dealt with and I could forget it. It was gone. It came down to 'easy believism' (just have faith, brother...) or, if there was anything that seemed to be hanging on, just a matter of some kind of spiritual, high octane deliverance ministry that dealt with it once and for all. Of course, when it didn't happen as was expected people could be left feeling guilty for their lack of faith and some of us could contribute to their guilt by the insensitive things we said. And so for many the only solution was to push things down beneath the surface, rationalise it, find something to 'medicate' the pain and/or just pretend and avoid openness and transparency so you could get on with life. All that happens of course is that the pain and the damage is deflected and will come out somewhere and someway eventually often with tragic and even more damaging consequences. In some cases, it can cause or exacerbate serious mental illness.

I am grateful to Ian McNaught for anticipating this post with his comment on my previous post in which he pointed me to an article by Ted Haggard who 'fell' from his position and ministry as a high profile Christian leader in 2006, partly perhaps because he had been taught this take on the new creation truth, and his damage was deflected into a series of actions that led to his downfall in a Christian world that really didn't know how to deal with damage in Christians who are 'supposed to be' new creations. I find the article really moving, helpful, passionate, compassionate and insightful. It not only deals with this issue but with how the church handles fallen leaders, and responds to the issue of mental illness among Christians, in the light of another recent high profile suicide by a Christian leader. I would also highly recommend a series of posts by Christian leader, blogger and psychiatrist Adrian Warnock, posted earlier this year in the light of the tragic suicide of Rick Warren's son, Matthew (it's worth pointing out that the Warrens' had a far healthier approach to understanding new creation truth and how to respond to mental illness; but the wider evangelical and charismatic church doesn't always).

In my next post I want to begin to explore a better approach to this 2 Cor.5:17 text and the wonderful truth it contains while still leaving space for us to deal better with brokenness.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Back to Blogging....on the Journey

Back to blogging later than intended! The problem with stopping a regular activity is that other things quickly rush into fill the spaces of time that it leaves, and you then struggle to reinsert it into your schedule! Any advice on how to stretch time will be gratefully received. I hope I have not lost too many readers in my absence. 

I want to continue with more thoughts on different aspects of the journey that I (and others) have been on in the last couple of years. See here for my suggestion of four different aspects. And I have also suggested a fifth - a journey of cultural transition. More on that later.

Over the next few posts, I want to say a little about the restorative or healing journey. And then some thoughts on the closely connected devotional journey. In relation to healing, I am not intending to get into personal detail here. These are personal and private things that it'd be inappropriate to air online. Rather, I will make some general comments about the need for a healing journey and what I think is involved; and I will then recommend some books that have helped me. However, as a bookish person one of the things that I am having to realise on this journey is that just reading another book (or attending another conference or getting into the latest 'revelation' or experience) doesn't deal with it. I think the answer lies (I put it that way because I am still very much on this journey) in honesty with self, transparency toward God and others, intimate encounter with God and trust. I am intending to post on things like:
  • a new creation? Yes, but....
  • glory in clay jars
  • the trouble with triumphalism
  • the challenge of transparency
  • the love of the Father
Hope you'll join me to reflect on these things and to maybe share your own experiences of your journeys.