Theological Hermeneutics VII – The Christ Event

After a “deserved” break (for you as well as me), I now return to my series on “theological hermeneutics.” (For the previous articles, see the heading “Hermeneutics” on my Serial Index page.)

My last few posts in this series emphasized the redemptive-historical character of Scripture as a function of the narrative plot of God’s story. In particular, I have suggested (along with others, of course–it is not my invention or solitary insight) that we read Scripture as a Five Act drama: Creation, Israel, Ministry of Jesus, Church and Eschaton. In this reading, it is appropriate to think of Creation and Eschaton as the bookends, the intent (creative purpose) and goal (eschatologial telos), of God’s story. Israel and the Church are the historical implementation of the divine intent within in a broken world with mixed results as both Scripture andecclesiastical history make clear.

In this post I want to suggest that the Christ Event (or, more specifically but not limited to, the ministry of Jesus) is the eschatological realization of the divine intent and goal within history. Whew! I need to unpack that one but it deserves a book. Here is a brief attempt.

What I mean by “Christ Event” is the broad conception of Christology itself.  The “Christ Event” is the incarnation, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus of Nazareth. It is fundamentally an act of God in and through the flesh to redeem the cosmos.

In this post I will concentrate on the “ministry of Jesus” since it is, I think, often underplayed in the history of theology, particulary in Stone-Campbell theology. Yet we should always think about the “Christ Event” holistically rather than compartmentalizing it or neglecting some of its aspects (e.g., Evangelicals tend to emphasize the death of Christ more than any other dimension–just compare how many songs we sing about the cross in contrast with how many we sing about the ministry or resurrection of Jesus).

The ministry of Jesus is not simply the historical evidence of the messianic office of Jesus (which is its primary function in Stone-Campbell thinking). For example, the miracles of Jesus in this frame are often regarded as simple authentifications of the message rather than eschatological signs of the reign of God.  Neither is the ministry of Jesus simply the active obedience of Jesus to secure active righteousness for the sake of imputation in a Reformation doctrine of justification (as is often the case in historic Reformed theology). For example, the obedience of Jesus is seen more in the context of meritorious achievement rather than a path of discipleship. I want to suggest–without denying the substance of the above–that the ministry of Jesus is itself the implementation of the divine intent of creation and the realization of the eschatological goal within history. It is the climatic moment in the history of redemption because it embodies the intent and goal of God’s story.

On the one hand, the ministry of Jesus is the presence of the Incarnate God at work to reverse the brokenness of the world, that is, the mission of Jesus is to reverse the curse. He is the true image of God–indeed, the one through whom the cosmos was made. He is the true Israel–all that Israel should have been; he is the remnant of Israel. He is the beloved Son of God who lives out the original divine intent in creation as humanity was intended to do. He is the fleshly and personal emodiment of God’s creative intent which should not be surprising since he is the instrument of creation itself.

On the other hand, the ministry of Jesus is the presence of the eschaton. The future arrived in the person and ministry of Jesus. His ministry is an eschatological ministry–he raises the dead, heals the sick, includes the outsider, brings good news to the poor. The eschatological hopes of Israel are realized in the minsitry of Jesus (e.g., Matthew 4:12-17). His death is an eschatological one–it is no mere physical death but a participation in the eschatological death (curse) that hangs over the creation. His resurrection–and this is the easiest one to see–is an eschatological event; it belongs to the future but appears within the flow of history as the firstfruits of the Eschaton. The incarnation itself, I would suggest, is an eschatological reality as the person of God dwells with his people on the earth which is both the original walk of God in the Garden and the hope of Revelation 21:1-4.

Without fully arguing this point, permit me to stress its significance. As the historic instantiation of divine intent and the proleptic realization of God’s eschatological goal, the ministry of Jesus (as part of the Christ Event) is the “pattern” (model, or whatever synonymn or metaphor one might want to employ) for living out the story of God. He is the story of God lived. He is the embodiment of both divine intent and the divine goal. The climax of the story of God appears within history as the fulfillment of divine intent and in anticipation of the appearance of the Eschaton itself. He is the image of God–what God intended his creation to be. He is the Son of Man–not in the sense that he is is human, but in the sense that he is the presence of the Eschaton (“Son of Man” is an eschatological title).

Understood in this way, the ministry of Jesus is the ministry of the church; the mission of Jesus is the mission of the church. I have made this point previously but it is important to stress this in the context of redemptive-historical hermeneutics. The ministry of Jesus is not simply the central act in terms of the middle act of five acts, but it is the central act because it is both the embodiment of the original (first) act and the last (fifth) act. It is beginning, center and goal of history itself. Consequently, the ministry of Jesus is the climactic moment in redemptive history. It serves, then, as the hermeneutical lens for thinking about divine intent and goal as we seek to live out the story of God in the present. The ministry of Jesus–or, speaking more holistically, the Christ Event–is our hermeneutical lens.

Israel was created to be the image of God in the world, but it was flawed. The church was created to be the image of God in the world, but it is flawed. The image of God is lived in Jesus. Neither Israel (as is clear from the Hebrew Scriptures) nor the church (as is clear from the Epistles) are the pattern for the image of God but rather Jesus–the Christ Event–is that pattern.

How this plays out in terms of specific ecclesiological issues that have dominated discussions within Reformed and Stone-Campbell hermeneutics is an important question to which I will soon turn. But the theological substance is what is important to me at this point. It is to see Christology–rather than ecclesiology–as the core pattern for living out the story of God and embodying the narrative of God in our present lives both individually and communally. 

Ultimately, our ecclesiology must be an expression and application of Christology. Ecclesiology cannot stand on its own. Rather, it is built on the foundation of Jesus Christ; it is built on the foundation of the ministry of Jesus. Just as Israel found its fulfillment in the ministry of Jesus, so the church continues the ministry of Jesus. Everything before the ministry of Jesus pointed toward it and everything after the ministry of Jesus should be grounded in it.

Part of my point is that to find the “pattern” for the church in the Acts and the Epistles is to get the cart before the horse. The pattern for the church is the ministry of Jesus. The Acts and the Epistles are illustrations of how the church lived out the ministry of Jesus as it spread across the known world. The Acts and Epistles do not constitute “patterns” (specified, detail instructions about how to “do church”) for the church but rather guides (explanations, interpretations and applications of the “Christ Event”) for how to live out the pattern exhibited in the ministry of Jesus himself who is both the Image (intent) and Eschaton (goal) of God.



16 Responses to “Theological Hermeneutics VII – The Christ Event”

  1.   rich constant Says:

    Agree with everything that you have to say, although when you use the word curse, that has multiple meanings.
    In attempting to understand the divine nature and the redemptive story for man through the faithfulness of our Lord by being an example of the divine nature, it is mandatory I would think to express this through the curse of the law.
    Galatians the third chapter, and the fourth.
    God’s people under the law, were under the curse of the law.
    Jesus was born under law, to bring about a promise which was through faith in God.
    This through faith in God is very important.
    The law could not and would not make anyone righteous.
    This law had to be taken out of the way, and could only be taken out of the way, by the servant. Which cursed everyone under it.
    The lawn given by God to Moses to his people Israel, had a curse attached to it for transgression.
    God institutes the Passover, the Levitical priesthood, and the blood sacrifice, for the forgiveness of sin.
    This does not eliminate the law of sin and death which is totally different than the law of Moses.
    Both laws had to be dealt with. The curse for the Jew, and the death of the Gentile world.
    This was accomplished through the cross through one righteous act.
    Again I agree with everything that you’re saying except the use of the word curse.
    God’s people are saved by grace through faith.
    Paul says that the people of Israel were special,
    under the law they were cursed.
    That’s why Galatians the fourth chapter states very specifically that he was born under under the law to redeem those under the law.
    The law just made sin more sinful.
    Faithfulness is the key word.
    Jesus was perfectly faithful to God.
    To glorify God and to have faith in God, we need in the church to be of the faith of Jesus.
    That means we must take on the divine nature of faithfulness as as exhibited, and told to us by the righteous one.
    After Christ completes his work, the only way to glorify God, is through becoming a servant to the word of God.
    I can have faith in God because he completed everything that he said that he would do concerning his promise, that belief structure brings me to Christ and the apostles teaching and Doc. which implemented in myself through the spirit brings about what Paul said it is no longer I live but Christ lives in me.

    Blessings John Mark I know this is long I’m sorry

  2. Profile photo of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    Richard, I used “curse” in the broad sense of Genesis 3 where the ground is cursed (for example) and the removal of the curse in Revelation 22:3 in the renewal of creation. Certainly the “curse” language of Deuteronomy and Galatians needs to be factored into the story as well though it is much debated as to how to do that.

    John Mark

  3.   rich constant Says:

    I figured as much, considering how you used it cursed,
    the Christ event does speak of a totally new creation.
    That’s why I was going into adam eve and good and evil. The to know that we discussed to me inherently means that men inherently know from Adam good from evil and were responsible to God for the good or evil they do in their lives up until the cross, the Gentile world. Sin is not imputed where there is no law all men are under the same law you miss the mark set by God you die.
    Spiritual be separated from God.
    We’ll physically die because we don’t have access to the tree of life that’s plainly stated. In Genesis

    Rom 3:23 Rom 3:24 Rom 3:25
    I believe these three verses take care of Jew and Gentile from adam to the time of the cross until Pentecost.
    Romans two

    Rom 3:26 for a demonstration of His righteousness in the present time,

    This is the time of the call to righteousness through the gospel of faithfulness.
    To God through Christ.
    by the words given to the apostles by the spirit
    until Christ is formed in the believer.
    Paul uses it somewhere Galatians or Ephesians.

  4. Profile photo of Matt Raines  Matt Says:

    It 4:03 and I?ve been studying the transfiguration for hours so decided to take a break and see if anything new had been posted. Sure enough a brand new post!

    “Consequently, the ministry of Jesus is the climactic moment in redemptive history. It serves, then, as the hermeneutical lens for thinking about divine intent and goal as we seek to live out the story of God in the present. The ministry of Jesus?or, speaking more holistically, the Christ Event?is our hermeneutical lens.”

    The Christ Event is our hermeneutical lens?wow! (Heart pounding, thoughts racing) then it hit me?wait a second I just read something like that! Then it dawned on me as I was reading your post it seems as if I am studying the transfiguration all over again.

    Its Been over two thousand years since Jesus took disciples up the mountain but the message still seem to be so applicable. ?This is my beloved son hear ye him?

    How do I live life? ?This is my beloved son hear ye him?
    How do we do ?church?? ?This is my beloved son hear ye him?
    What it the pattern we are to follow? ?This is my beloved son hear ye him?

    I just wish I could preach that Sunday! (Without losing my job!)
    Thanks for your post they are great!

  5. Profile photo of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    It is helpful to see key events in the life of Jesus (e.g., baptism, transfiguration, confession at Cesarea Phillippi, etc.) as moments which exemplify the Christological lens I am advocating. The Transfiguration–as a witness to the coming eschatological reality (e.g., Jesus will be glorified though he dies)–is certainly one of those. The Son is the standard, the pattern, the measuring stick, the blueprint, etc. “Hear ye him.” Thanks for the extension of the post in the light of this event in Jesus’ life.

  6. Profile photo of Jay Guin  Jay Guin Says:

    Amen, top to bottom. Just a thought I’d like to get your take on:

    It seems that that Eschaton is not just a return to Eden. It takes to something beyond and better than Eden, indeed, better than the first Creation.

    Hence, unlike the Creation, the new heaven and new earth will have no night and day, no sun and moon, and no sea (so that Rev 21 promises a dramatic change and improvement over Gen 1).

    Moreover, there will be no marriage, which reverses Gen 2 (or perfects it? It’s a tough one, because I like being married.)

    And Gal 3:28 suggests that there will be “no male and female” (mistranslated in the KJV and NIV), which also is different from Gen 1 and 2. (Why negate Gen 1 if not speaking with reference to the Eschaton?)

    Of course, our bodies will be heavenly/spiritual, not made of dust, unlike our Gen 1 and 2 bodies.

    Finally, in Eden, Adam and Eve were capable of sin and so sinned and fell. In the new heaven and new earth, we will live with God in eternity, surely meaning that we won’t be able to sin. Besides, we’re promised an end to worry, and I’d worry about sinning if sin were possible.

    Anyway, the idea that we’re heading toward an existence superior to Eden seems pretty cool (although I’m afraid that I’ll miss the ocean, Rev. 21:1).

    Anyway, I can’t recall ever having read or heard this idea, but it seems to make some sense.

  7.   rich constant Says:

    Eph 5:1 Then become imitators of God, as beloved children,
    Eph 5:2 and walk in love, even as Christ also loved us and gave Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for an odor of a sweet smell.

  8.   rich constant Says:

    Hebrews 12:22 through 29,

    I have a real tough time on which are speaking out as far as a matter the way I read, Hebrews hear seems to be speaking of the way things are now after the cross and glorification.
    This is so hard for me it’s even hard to form a question.
    It probably deals with time God living outside the realm of time, although he deals with time.

    Is there at this time a resurrected body of believers called the assembly the church of the first born in the new Jerusalem, the city of God under the messianic rule of Christ today?
    Like right now, living in the moment.
    John Mark this is always been a problem with me, as in what was, what is, what will be.
    Paul says we all sleep and we will rise at the Trump.
    Hebrews seems to be saying something else.
    Do you understand what I am saying.
    If you don’t forget it we can deal with that later.
    I just think that it is important time to discuss this, I think.
    Blessings rich in California anyway I need a little help their if it’s real simple for you maybe give me an answer thanks

  9.   rich constant Says:

    who do you think wrote the heb. letter
    is the word “THEM”A PROPER INTERPATATION
    in the greek.
    if so it would seem none of the apost’s wrote this letter.
    if so concerning last post i would tend to err on the side of Paul.

    Heb 2:4 God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?

  10. Profile photo of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    Richard,

    I don’t know who wrote Hebrews and it is not a paticular concern to me at this point. So, I will leave that one to the side. :-)

    As to Hebrews 12:22-29, I believe this is the vision the preacher offers to the assembled believers. As assembled, they participate in the assembly of angels around the throne of God in the heavenly city of God. I write about this in my book “A Gathered People” and the following post says a bit about it as well. You can also find my thinking on this text at the following post http://johnmarkhicks.wordpress.com/2005/07/18/witnesses-in-the-presence-of-god/

  11. Profile photo of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    Jay

    I would agree that the Eschaton is not a simple return to Eden but is a glorified earth–not just a Garden upon the earth.

    However, I don’t think this is dematerialization of the earth or our resurrected bodies. I take “spiritual” body to mean “animated by the Holy Spirit” rather than its constituitive nature (that is, it is not “made up of” or “consist of” spirit).

    I am not so sure gender is negated in the Eschaton since it is part of our idenity in the image of God in creation. Rather, it will be the harmony of male and female with all the differences that entails. In one sense marriage disappears, perhaps, because we are all share intitimate communion with each other. But I’m not sure about all that, of course.

    I take the “no more sea” as purely a metaphorical or apocalyptic reference about distance rather than about geography.

    Perfected characters living in the full presence of the Triune God on a glorified earth might be the reason we will never sin, but I don’t know the rationale really. It is sufficient to live with the promise of God, I think. I don’t know why that promise would be true. :-) But we can guess, which I am sometimes prone to do. :-)

    Along with our forefathers–whether Irenaeus or David Lipscomb–I believe heaven will be on earth. :-)

  12. Profile photo of Jay Guin  Jay Guin Says:

    Why then do you suppose Paul writes in Gal 3:28 —

    28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (ESV)

    Several commentators (such as NT Wright, but others, too) note the break from grammatical parallelism in the third pair, suggesting it’s intentional that Paul negates “male and female” from Gen 1:27. He could have made his point with “neither male nor female,” but he chose to vary his terminology to specifically negate a part of God’s created order — which seems overkill if he just wants to say that God justifies both men and women.

    So I’ve been pondering why Paul chose his words as he did. I mean, to specifically negate a part of God’s creation has to mean something. And the only example I can think of where NT writers negate Gen 1 is the Eschaton.

  13.   randall Says:

    JMH, I appreciate all of your your posts and especially the ones on hermeneutics. Please tell us you are going to put this into book form in the not too distant future.
    These posts have been helpful and I am convinced many of us look forward to having it all together for easy access. It could make a great study for church leadership or even a Sunday School class that wanted a little more than the usual enchilada. Thanks for your efforts and please keep it coming. Randall

  14.   rich constant Says:

    jay
    in the net bible,
    new english trans.
    the point of view makes a shift gal 2:16- 21
    this comes to a close in 3:23

    note faithfulness of christ
    not faith in christ

    when you look to 28 i would say
    it is the equal standing in in the father’s presence in the eschaton throu the righteous faith that has been established

  15. Profile photo of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    I have read the point on Galatians 3:28 before, but I don’t buy it. :-) I think “male and female” is intended as a quotation from Genesis 1 and thus is not “neither…nor” (oude) just as others. However, I don’t think the point is negation of gender itself but the negation of how gender participates in the fallenness of the world in terms of power, etc. I don’t see this as reversal of creation since I see gender as integral to the nature of imaging God in the created reality.

    But, on the other hand, I have no confident evidence to say that such a dissolution of gender is impossible in the new heavens and new earth.

    One of my former teachers wrote on this point at http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/cbmw/rbmw/chapter12.html. I think it is cogent and cautious though I would not agree with everything in it.

  16. Profile photo of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    Randall, a book may be in the future, but it is–at this moment–a distant future. My season of rest means that I cannot begin such a big project at the moment. But I do have in interest in writing on that subject at some point. Thanks for the encouragement.

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