J. Michael Feazell: We’re very glad to have back with us again today Dr. C. Baxter Kruger, president of Perichoresis, an international non-profit ministry. Dr. Kruger is author of The Great Dance: The Christian Vision Revisited. His senior assistant, Steve Horn, is with us as well. Let our panel introduce themselves.
- John McKenna (JM), doctrinal adviser to our denomination.
- Mike Morison (MM), editor of Together newsletter.
- Joseph Tkach (JWT), the current president of our denomination.
- Steve Horn (SH), the assistant of Dr. Kruger.
- Baxter Kruger (CBK), the director of Perichoresis Ministries.
JMF: We’re really glad that you were able to join us again, because when we stopped last time we met, Dr. Tkach was in the middle of a key question that everybody wanted to hear the answer to and discuss, and we had to stop. So Dr. Tkach, take it away.
JT: Just for a bit of context, working pastorally, we’ve met people who have ups and downs in their lives, and when they have the downs, they always feel like such a failure, that they were just not faithful enough, and they didn’t have enough faith. When they better understand this Incarnational theology, they have a whole different context in which they’re living. Unfortunately, with the proliferation of the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel, many people are trying to work up enough faith, and then the fall is very painful and great when they realize they haven’t worked up enough faith. Perhaps you can comment on the difference between living in the faith of Jesus as opposed to working up your own faith.
CBK: That’s the difference between religion and Christianity. Every religion in the world is going to tell you that you have to build a relationship with God, or maintain a relationship with God – here is how you do that, go do it.
Christianity says, no one knows the Father but the Son. Jesus says, come to me and you can share in my relationship with the Father, which means I’m the true believer, and I will share my faith with you, and you can participate in my relationship with the Father, and that’s an easy thing, he says. My yoke is easy, my load is light. I’m not like the Pharisees, who are going to keep lists upon list upon list of things you’ve got to be doing to entertain and maintain some sort of relationship with this invisible God.
To me, the greatest news in the world is … there’s a singer/songwriter back in, I think he’s originally from Alabama – named Pierce Pettis – one of the, just brilliant singer/songwriters of our time, but he’s got a song called “God believes in you.” One of the lines says, when you feel so ashamed that you could die, God believes in you.
For me, the news is that, not only does the Father, Son, and Spirit believe in me, believe in us, but they’ve established a relationship with us, and with me and with all of us across the world. And so it’s not about us working up something in order to get into a relationship. Faith is a discovery that Jesus has established a relationship with us, and it’s a discovery that commands me to stop my own false religious believing and pretense, and to rest in the reality of that relationship. It’s a discovery that summons me to acknowledge it by reckoning on it – and beginning to live and participate with his mind, with him. It was great relief there.
JM: I think one of the most comforting aspects of this kind of confession for me has been that Jesus Christ has repented for me. That I do not have to dig down into the depths of my own being to find a proper repentance before God, because Christ does that for me. To me, I can only catch one little minnow, but I’m a fisher of men because of who Jesus is.
CBK: How could you repent without knowing what sin really is? We’re not even in a position to say how bad have we actually done in our own self-effort. Only Jesus is in a position to say, “this is what the mess is,” and he receives the Father’s love in the middle of that for us.
JMF: Don’t we often see our own sin and sinfulness way down the line, after we’ve been Christians a long time? We tend to think, I’m worse now than ever, it seems to me, and it’s probably because we can see what sin is better, the longer we walk with Christ.
CBK: There are several dimensions, there’s one that I want to point out there and that is, my friend, Bruce Wauchope, in Australia, he’s done a series called “The gospel and mental health” that’s available in our website. But one of the things that he points out is that, as we come to know that we are accepted, truly just accepted as we are, only then do we start letting out stuff that we’ve been keeping hidden and suppressed and in a closet. That’s when we begin to be healed – only in the light of our acceptance can we even acknowledge that this is going on, let alone come forward with it. So he says quite often, the gospel is news about acceptance in Jesus, everything starts falling apart in people’s lives, because they are no longer trying to hold it all together. They let it come forward, and that’s where real healing starts.
JT: That’s freeing. The legalist can’t see this, because he’s wearing not just thick glasses, but welder’s glasses, and they’re comparing themselves to this list of rules. They misunderstand the context of Jesus’ ministry, or John the Baptist’s ministry, when they talk about repenting. All they do is heap up a larger and ever-growing burden of guilt on themselves.
JMF: They have to try all the harder to hold everything together.
SH: If you’re not seeing yourself in Christ, who else is going to hold it together? It’s going to get dumped in your lap every time. So to me, the whole paradigm of talking about sin goes far deeper than the ten commandments or the legal models. He goes all the way into you not seeing, and you denying who you are in Christ, and what has been accomplished in and through his death, burial and resurrection.
JMF: It leaves you with deep depression or hypocrisy or both.
JM: It took no other than Christ to show me how much I hated him. Only he could show me that. No one else can show us how much we hate who God is, except God.
CBK: Only then, by revealing the relationship that God has with us, that he won’t let us go. He’s accepted us.
JM: That’s why we say … He’s a very merciful God.
SH: We started out talking about the faith issue, seeing that participating in Jesus’ faith, he is the one who has the relationship with the Father. He is the one who knows the Father. He is the one who actively participates in the love of the Father and the Spirit. He shares that with us. He shares everything that there is with us. So he is sharing our faith.
I used to read that Scripture, “If you have the faith of a mustard seed, you could say to that mountain ‘be removed,’ and it falls into the ocean.” I read it and read it and kept trying to conjure it up. Finally I read it one day, and I felt so stupid, because after a while the way I read it was, it says, “you don’t have it. You don’t have the faith of a mustard seed. Jesus is the one who’s got all the faith.” He shared it with us through grace, that’s what saved us, and took a lot of the pressure off.
JMF: So I don’t have to depend on the quality and level of my faith to know that I’m saved.
SH: No more than you do for your own salvation. It’s not up to you, it’s a finished work.
CBK: Who has ever moved beyond “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief,” I mean, honestly? Would that not be the apostle Paul’s last confession? Or the great Athanasius? Isn’t it “Lord I believe, help my unbelief”? I see it, I want it, and so you tell me the difference between looking at it ourselves, as Steve was saying, independent, outside of union with Christ, outside of his faith and faithfulness. We are trying to put our quantity of faith over here to see if it qualifies to get an exchange miracle, if we flex it enough. That independent faith is to say, no, Jesus is the one that moves mountains, and when we participate in him, we find ourselves getting water because he says “get water,” and he is going to transform it into wine. We don’t do that, he does that. He’s the transformer.
MM: I was thinking about how people want to get other people saved, and yet those other people are already saved. Maybe it’s more of an educational process than a saving process?
CBK: We have to rethink – because you’re thinking it about this way – you cannot be lost if you don’t belong. Salvation has to be rethought in the light of the fact that Jesus has a relationship with us. I had this discussion with a Calvinist at the American Academy of Religion in New Orleans out on Royal Street. I was going to eat supper and he followed me and he was arguing with me all the way. We got out in the middle – it was Canal Street, which is a boulevard – and he said: “Surely you don’t believe that all these people out here in New Orleans are in Christ.”
I just looked at him and said, “Well, of course I do. I mean, how else did they get here?” He said: God made them. And I said: Which God made them? And he said, “God.” And I said which God? And he said, I don’t know what you mean – God’s common grace? And I said, which God, what’s his name? He wouldn’t say it. He wouldn’t say, Father, Son and Spirit, because that would have meant that there is a relationship that Jesus has with all these people in New Orleans whether they prayed the prayer or even are one of the elect…
So he’s gonna hide behind the notion of common grace – and some generic common grace that the Father relates to people behind the back of Jesus – as opposed to seeing that all things come into being in and through Jesus and now he has lifted us up, all of us, into this relation.
Now we can talk about getting saved – getting saved is what Jesus did for us; now we can talk about our experience of that. And where are we in our journey of understanding?
The first encounter that I had that I remember was in college, and I was at a camp, and boy, it was very powerful and I thought, “this is fantastic.” Everybody tells me “you got saved.” I thought, “I got saved.” Then I had another encounter that was even better, three years down the road and, well, what was that? They said, you get a second blessing. Ok, a second blessing.
Then I had a really huge one in Scotland with J.B. Torrance teaching, and I’m going, I didn’t know how to categorize it, and he is the one who said to me, “you have many, many experiences in your life. Don’t build your theology on experience – your salvation happened in Jesus. It unfolds in your life relationally. There are moments of great insight and liberation and clarity. There are moments like that, but those are not when you get from outside of Jesus into Jesus. That’s revelation. That’s clarification. You used the word “education,” which is a fantastic word. Education means to draw out.
MM: I was thinking Jesus announced his good news. He didn’t ask, “Is this true or not?” Rather, he announced it as a fact.
CBK: Again, and again, the gospel is not an invitation, it’s a declaration of reality – I am the Lord your God, I am the light of the cosmos. Follow me and you won’t walk in the dark, you’ll be in the light. Again and again and again, it’s not an invitation, it’s a declaration of reality. That declaration summons us to change our view of reality and come and participate. And the kingdom’s here.
JM: I remember one day at Fuller Seminary, Tom Torrance was being haunted by Evangelical born-again people, and they wanted to know, “when were you born again?” I can tell you, I was born again in 1972, because of some experience I had in San Francisco. Everybody was after Tom because could they do the same, they could say, I was born again in such and such a date and such and such a time. When they asked that question to Professor Torrance, he said, “Well, it was around A.D. 30.”
CBK: In Jesus’ resurrection.
The abundance gospel
JT: That triggers another area that I think we should ask you to comment upon. It’s interesting how quickly Christianity can be turned into a religion – of lists of rules, and things to do or another way of saying it – making a formula out of Christianity. Something that’s ever growing in popularity in the United States, and I’m afraid it’s one of the worst things that the United States exports outside its country, is this health, wealth, prosperity gospel – if you just do these right things, have the right amount of faith, you’ll be wearing a Rolex watch in just a matter of months and driving a new Lexus – maybe you could comment on that.
CBK: Everything that happened to Jesus and his apostles. You can’t have a vision of the gospel that excludes what’s happened to the apostles and to Jesus himself. I think God wants us whole and complete, and we are in Jesus – and that unfolds in history – and it includes our death. The experience of our salvation, the unfolding of it includes our death.
I have this conversation with a friend back home who says, “Baxter, you teach that everything is bound up in Jesus, and if it’s bound up in Jesus, then all we’ve got to do is believe enough, and if we believe enough, it will all unfold.” I said “You’re right. If we believed with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, then the truth in Jesus will be set free. What you’re excluding is the journey, and the journey is our life, which includes our death. That’s when we learn it.”
We learn it when we die – that we’re not the Lord, we don’t have the power of life, we never did, and we’ve always participated in Jesus. One thing that needs to be on the table is that, that suffering is part of the way in which we can participate in the faith of Christ – as he’d learned the things who he was (Hebrews 5) through the things that he suffered.
The second thing that I think is important is that, he is the one who tells us what we are supposed to believe, what we are supposed to do. That’s not in our control. There were servants sitting around when Jesus commanded these servants to get water, he transformed it into wine. The next day, they went out – “we’re gonna get water.” So they get water, get more water, get more water. But that’s not what Jesus is doing. He’s the only one who transforms it into wine – he calls the shots.
That’s why the Lazarus story is important. It says explicitly in John 11, “Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick” and it says, he stayed where he was two more days. It was like a two-days journey. After four days the man has been dead, the sisters come out and said, “If you would’ve been here, our brother wouldn’t have died.” He says, this has been done for the revelation for the Son of Man. This suffering, this not getting the Rolex, this struggle, this man died and was rotting, he went through that, that family went through that, for the revelation of Jesus Christ. We’ve got to have a place for that obviously biblical story in our theology.
JMF: Jesus said, I’ve come that they might have life and have it more abundantly. We want to interpret the word “abundantly” as Rolexes and Lexuses – abundance of possessions. What we possess, our position, prestige, power – that’s not the abundant life. When you boil it down, what people really want, what people really need and what constitutes abundance in life, ask any rich person who’s never have a love relationship, who’s never had anybody care about them and love them and has never loved anyone – we need and want love – that’s abundance. People would trade all the riches they have for somebody who loves them, cares for them, to feel accepted and know that they’re beloved. This is abundant life.
CBK: Jesus, when he defines eternal life – this is eternal life, that they may know you. Knowing the Father and this Father’s heart (which is what you’re saying), knowing his love for us produces an unearthly assurance within our souls, a peace and a hope that is life. It has an infinite variety of expressions. It may include giving your own life for the benefit of another person. That abundant life is not just… that’s an American invention, only recently did anybody think about anything like that – only in a materialist world would anybody dream of that.
Abundant life is knowing the Father’s heart and experiencing his lavish love. Today, whether that’s in Los Angeles, or in Australia, or wherever it is – and in the midst of our lives and relationship. In the freedom that comes from knowing I am assured in my soul, with that unearthly assurance, now therefore I’m not self-centered. In this moment I’m living in assurance and therefore I can be other-centered like the Father, Son and Spirit, and I can be there for my family, be there for my friends, for their benefit – that’s the rippling of the river of living water. That’s the kingdom, the way of being in life with the Father, Son and Spirit. The abundance of their way of life comes into expression in us through assurance. That’s it, that’s what we want.
JMF: Giving ourselves away entirely and receiving ourselves back from God and from one another – totally different sense of abundance from the way we’ve defined it.
SH: One of the things interesting to me about the grace of God is that he would give you the desires of your heart, so to me, there’s nothing that would preclude anyone from wanting to have riches and health and all of the other stuff – Paul said, what good is it then if I gain everything but I don’t have Christ? That’s kind of strong language to me. You can probably pray yourself into a million bucks. So what? I’ve seen more miserable wealthy people than I care to even speak about right now. They have all the money in the world.
CBK: And what freedom and beauty it is when do have a Rolex, so you can give it to somebody else.
JMF: Exactly – even Abraham was a rich man for his age, a wealthy man. And yet this wasn’t what defined him. It’s not what made him be who he was and successful.
JM: We must be talking about life in the new creation – the new heavens and the new earth as the new children of the kingdom, that’s where life is ultimately very abundant.
CBK: “Wherein dwelleth right relationship.”
JMF: “How difficult it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God,” Jesus told the disciples after the encounter with the wealthy man who couldn’t let go of his possessions. But even so, they said, “who can be saved then?” “With God all things are possible. Even this, a camel going through the eye of the needle, God can even do that.” He does do that – save rich people and poor people alike, there’s no difference when we’re in Christ.
CBK: To come back to what I call the unearthly assurance, the longer I live … that is the real gift of the gospel to us. It takes the pressure off. It helps me to see that I am loved, and have been loved and I am accepted and I’m included just like I am right now today. So I can let go of stuff – to strive – even striving of earnest prayer to get a Rolex watch. Whatever it is, you can let go of that and just be. That leaves you not in self-centered mode, not in narcissistic mode, not in frantic mode, but in the calmed mode where you’re free to give of yourself for others – which creates fellowship, and that life of the kingdom has an inbreaking, it expresses itself.
SH: The question is, what makes you whole and complete and in need of nothing? To me that’s the real question.
JM: Having no need, to be nothing.
MM: Reminds me of Paul in prison in Philippians. He is in prison what does he talk about? He says he wants to know Christ and his sufferings and also the power of his resurrection. He knows that one is on the path toward the other. He is not even praying his way out of prison, he’s just assured of, that if he dies, he will go to be with the Lord, that’s all that counted.
CBK: There was a George Wishart in the Reformation right before … he was a guy that evidently was preaching when John Knox was converted or came to the light, or whatever you want to call it. But Wishart was also burned at the stake and he was down in a well in St. Andrews (and there’s a marquee out there marking it in the road) and he was singing. It was one of those wells … basically a foot around it goes down, at the bottom it’s five feet. You’ve got enough room to stretch out there, but that’s it. He was singing down there, and people that listened to him all came to faith, because they could not figure out how in the world this guy was having a good time. Then that even was sort of idolized: that’s what we are supposed to do.
He was experiencing the Father’s care for him as a person in the midst of that trauma. And it was light. Other people say, What is going on here? This is beautiful. You wouldn’t want to say to him he did not have abundant life in that moment. He didn’t have freedom, he didn’t have a Rolex watch, or any other kind of watch, for that matter. He was living in his own mess because of where he was and could not get out, but nevertheless the Lord met him there. It was something very real and very deep and very beautiful about it, I guarantee he would not have given up a million years for exchange somewhere else.
SH: Idolatry, comes to my mind also. Praying for prosperity.
CBK: I think your question is…Steve, what constitutes being whole and complete and in need of nothing? For me the only answer is that we know the Father as Jesus knows the Father.
JT: And the only way we can do that is through Jesus himself.
JM: If we read John 17 in his prayer for us, not only for his disciples but those who will believe (through his disciples) in him, that the Father and the Son in the Spirit share with those who believe in Christ is abundant life. It is life forever, it is the new creation. Though the history of the church can deny this answer to this prayer of oneness, “that they maybe one, Father, as we are one” – though the history of the church may deny it, the church can’t deny it. The church of Jesus Christ is one with the Father, of the Son, in the Spirit.
JMF: We’ve come to the end of our time again, unfortunately, and I want to give appreciation and thanks for Dr. Kruger for being with us again, along with his senior assistant Steve Horn. Dr. Kruger is author of The Great Dance: the Christian Vision Revisited. The Great Dance is available on the Perichoresis website at www.perichoresis.org. I might mention that Dr. Kruger is also president of Mediator Lures and holds two U.S. patents on fishing lure designs, and you can read more about that on the Perichoresis website as well. Thanks to everybody once again for your participation today, and thanks to Dr. Kruger and Steve Horn for being with us. I’m Mike Feazell.
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