Twelve months ago I drew attention to Robert Letham’s observations in his book, The Holy Trinity (P&R Publishing: 2004), concerning the impact of postmodernism on society. He comments that since the 1970s the western world has developed ‘a generally pessimistic view of human progress… The modern world’s reliance on reason has been replaced by a preference for emotion… The cardinal fault in interpersonal relations now is to hurt someone’s feelings…’ (p.449).
‘In the vanguard of this new world order,’ he continues, ‘are not so much scientists as literary critics. Its root feature is the view that the world is without objective meaning or absolute truth…’ (p.453).
How should we respond? Letham suggests ‘perhaps the most appropriate response to the postmodern suspicion of claims of objective, absolute truth is in our focusing on the manipulation-free, self-giving love of God’ (p.456). Yet how often do we find this ‘manipulation-free, self-giving love of God’ emulated in churches?
He asks, ‘How often do evangelists use music to get their audience into the right mood, to soften them up, so that they can influence them more easily and so change their behaviour? … Much “worship” today is not worship at all, for it is not directed to the Holy Trinity, but to the advancement of hidden agendas, the bolstering of human pride, or the entertainment of seekers’.
By contrast, Paul’s thanksgiving for the church in Colossae, speaks of a church that is God’s workmanship.
In Colossians 1:3-8 we read: In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God. This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit (Colossians 1:1-8).
Salvation – the work of the One in Three God. The Colossians did not just have a ‘faith in God’ but rather their faith was in Christ Jesus who, Paul tells us, enjoys a unique relationship with God the Father. Paul explains this relationship more fully in Colossians 1:15 where he speaks of Jesus being the image of the invisible God, the firstborn before all creation. Jesus perfectly reveals the nature and being of God.
Furthermore, there is reference to another Person in the Godhead whom we so easily overlook. In verses 7 and 8 we read: This (gospel) you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit.
God’s Spirit was also intimately involved in the work of salvation – the Colossians faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and also their love for all the saints (verse 4).
Love. The Colossians’ relationship with the Lord Jesus expressed itself in their relationship with one another. They were a new community, the people of God. The love of which Paul speaks is one that binds people of different national and cultural backgrounds into a unique community. It was an example of the way Jesus’ command was being fulfilled when he said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13: 34-35).
Truth. In our postmodern age, it’s worth noticing Paul’s emphasis on the truth. The gospel, he says, is the word of the truth. He could have omitted any reference to the truth, but he didn’t. And, because it is the word of the truth Christianity was expanding all over the world, he says.
Robert Letham comments: ‘It is vital that we present people with the context in which an intelligent response to the gospel can be made. The message of God’s grace must be grounded in creation, the reality of truth, and in the union and communion of the Trinity’ (p.456).
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Starting Wednesday, March 6. Lenten Reflections – 40 Days with the Gospel of John
Lent forms an important part of the Christian church’s traditional calendar. Each day of Lent, I am offering a selected text from the Gospel of John, paired with a reflection. Alongside the readings and reflections, there will a prayer, one of the collects (in Anglican terms, a short prayer that collects the ideas of the day). Together with a suggested daily reading plan from the Gospel of John that will take you through the whole book by Easter.
Email me if you are interested, or sign up next week on the Anglican Connection website: www.anglicanconnection.com
© John G. Mason, Anglican Connection