J. Michael Feazell: We’re delighted to have with us again in our round table discussion Dr. C. Baxter Kruger, president of Perichoresis, an international non-profit ministry. He is joined by his assistant Steve Horn. Let’s go around the table and introduce our panel.
- Joseph Tkach (JWT), current president of our denomination.
- John McKenna (JM), doctrinal adviser to our denomination.
- Mike Morison (MM), editor of Together magazine.
- Steve Horn (SH), Dr. Kruger’s assistant.
- Baxter Kruger (CBK), husband of Beth.
JMF: Thanks everybody, let’s begin by talking about all the people in the Old Testament… many of them are the heroes of the Bible, and yet they lived before Christ came and consequently never heard of Christ, never named the name of Christ, what happens to those people? Are they in hell? I’ve heard that said.
CBK: If you ask me the direct question, I would say that there are two concepts that are important, and this is where your theology bursts the wineskins of our present conception. The first one is the concept of prolepsis, which is there are certain things that happened on the basis of something that has not yet been historically realized. Paul says that God winks at the transgressions committed in the old times because he knew that the sacrifice of Jesus was coming. In essence he’s saying God was relating to Israel and to the world at large on the basis of the relationship that he would have with them in the future in the person of Jesus.
That’s one thing. The other is that Paul says, I think deliberately, that, not only are all things created in and through, and by and for the Son of God, but he says Jesus, and he has in view there the incarnate Son. Just in the mind-boggling idea, basically what we’re saying is that Adam and Eve and everyone after them came into being, by the Father, through the Son and in the Spirit. What they knew of that, how much they understood of that, how they could process that, I don’t know, but for me, I do not believe that any person will ever wake up on the other side and meet Jesus and say, “Who are you?”
Jesus is the one who knows how people respond to him. Everybody in the history of every religion wants to be the one in the position to say, this is what constitutes a response to Jesus. But he is the only one in that position. Paul says in Colossians that the gospel has been proclaimed to all creation, in heaven and on earth. He is pushing the envelope that way, and that relationship has been there, and is being revealed in some way that makes sense to people, and Jesus is the one who’s relating and having that. That’s about as far as I can go there.
JMF: What are the implications of that for loved ones, relatives, all people in far-away places who perhaps never heard the gospel or perhaps never heard it in a way that properly represented it, and therefore verbally accepted it …
CBK: Well, who has heard the gospel properly presented since Jesus preached? The good news is that Jesus is the one who has established relationship with the human race. He has done that. That is not dependent upon the church, that is not dependent upon our faith. The Father’s Son has established relationship with each of us, in his Spirit. He is addressing us and we are responding. The place of the Christian church is to be a witness to that relationship, to help people know who it is that they are in relationship with – what this is about – what their time and their history is about. The church is to bear a witness and to be a fellowship of light that brings light on what’s really going on. It’s not Allah, it’s Jesus. It’s our job to stand up and unpack and proclaim that as the truth, not something we create, but as the truth it is, that he has established.
I think that it is really important for us to recognize that we give up judgment on who’s in, who’s out and what constitutes that. Jesus has established a relationship with the entire cosmos – in his own incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Everyone, at some level, is aware of that. They may not be able to call him Jesus, because maybe they grew up in a fundamentalist church where Jesus was so small and so mean-spirited that the only thing that they could do is run from that conception because it was so non-human. They are embracing life, and I don’t think that when they are embracing life, they are embracing non-Jesus. They are trying to find Jesus in the dark. It’s the job of the Christian church to say, “This is what’s going on here. You’re trying to embrace the real Jesus.” You help people see who that is.
JT: One of the key verses in all this incarnational talk that we’ve had today is one you’ve alluded to numerous times, that all things are created for him and by him and consist in him. I think one of the most misunderstood issues is this notion that if you die before you hear Jesus’ name and have the chance to accept him as your Savior, that it’s all over. Somehow, God is handcuffed and you’re destined to go to hell for eternity and have eternal torment. What it overlooks is the fact that God is sovereign and he is not a prisoner of his sovereignty, he has a freedom, and since he created all things, and all things live and consist for him, by him and in him, we’re not really dead till he says we’re dead.
CBK: I think about Lazarus, he’s dead four days, comes back to life, and (the Gospel of John was apparently written by the apostle) you think, “John, why didn’t you interview Lazarus? This guy’s been dead four days? For John, he’s like, “Why interview Lazarus when we’ve got to talk to Jesus? Here’s what we’re looking at when we’re going to meet on the other side – it’s right here in front of us.” The revelation of who God is, and what God intends, and has planned and has accomplished, is the person of Jesus and his union with us. That’s what we come to on the other side.
JMF: Jesus conquered death, and in him, we’re conquerors of death as well.
SH: One who was slain from before the foundation of the world, that’s what I’m thinking about. We keep bringing this forward into a time in history as if that’s important.
JMF: As if God is bound by time…
SH: this is before the foundation.
JM: Perhaps we could remember that he came in the fullness of time. How are you going to flesh out the significance of the fullness of time without understanding that he is the Lord of time? He is the Lord of time past, he is the Lord of time present, he is the Lord of time future. He is the Lord of time. He is the judge and Savior of all time. When you’re asking questions about how he relates himself to time, you’re asking big questions, and you need to get the answers from the Lord of time.
This concept of prolepsis that Baxter is talking about, I see Moses’ confession already operating with the concept of prolepsis. He’s doing it like this: Because the Lord bailed the people of God out of Egypt, I can confess the one who created the heavens and the earth in the beginning. It’s in the light of redemption that you understand creation. That is fundamental to what the meaning of prolepsis is. Nobody understands the Creator without the redemption of the Creator, and this Creator is the redeemer of all time.
CBK: and the Revealer.
JM: The Son of God, pre-incarnate, is just as time-full (and I think that’s what you are thinking of) as the incarnate Son of God – it’s just a different kind of time, isn’t it?
SH: Some of the actions in the Old Testament particularly, several things were counted as righteousness. If you take the definition of righteousness as being in right relationship – that was what was basically given to them where they were. We just happen to be coming along in the time to where God was in Christ Jesus reconciling the entire cosmos – and a period of time that was written about, we saw that happen in history – we were operating in that particular point in history.
CBK: The basis of the covenant relationship with Israel was the circumcision, and it happened to Israel in the flesh of Jesus. It all pointed forward to him. The old covenant was a covenant in Christ, which he was destined to come and fulfill for them and in their behalf, and we’re on the other side of that covenant fulfilled, but just the same thing, we’re participating in that.
JMF: It was for “today” the today of Joshua. Today where God meets us – wherever and whenever God meets us – it is the “today.”
MM: It was all pointing forward.
SH: All the language of the prophets pointing towards the Messiah…
JM: And the Messiah is the son of David. “I’ll never take my hesed – my grace – from off of your house like I took it from off of the house of Saul. In this way, you will be my son and I will be your father.” In that Father-son relationship is something new. Nobody before David is going to have this … Moses didn’t have this kind of relationship with the Lord God, with the great I AM the Lord God is. He chose in his freedom in the time of the monarchy to give this relationship to David. That promise to David is Messianic hope. The messianic David is the grace of God by virtue of the fact that God was free to choose to do this for the sake of fulfilling his promise in covenant with his people in his creation. That’s why you can talk about Jesus come in the fullness of time – the promise kept the righteousness of God.
CBK: I was thinking a while ago about this that Moses – somebody was talking about that Moses – and with David too, it’s the Spirit of Christ that inspired the prophets, who inspired Moses. It’s not like in the Old Testament the Spirit is caught off guard with the Incarnation. The Incarnation is what’s planned before the foundation of the world, so Genesis, the covenant with Abraham and with Israel, and with Israel, with the human race, is not only a foreshadowing but it’s patterned after the new covenant. It is not yet historically realized. This is just baby steps, and it’s going to be fulfilled in Jesus, and once it’s fulfilled in Jesus, then we go back and we see that relation that God has had with all peoples all the time in Christ but there was no way to see that during that great darkness.
CBK: Preparation, fulfillment, now revelation – in the Spirit.
JMF: The matrix.
CBK: Yeah, we’re in the matrix.
JM: I like even this trajectory that we are talking about, that it has typological significance. When Jesus says, “they wrote about me,” he’s not saying, Moses knew me, and wrote about me. He’s saying Moses wrote of God in such a way that he spoke of me even if he didn’t know it. All the prophets said that way.
JMF: 1 Peter 1:10.
JM: Yeah, the prophets … they don’t have any idea what they’re writing about and probably St. Paul and St. Peter had very little idea that they were writing Scripture – they were writing letters, that’s all they were doing.
CBK: They were doing their best they could to write about Jesus and didn’t realize what it meant.
JM: Well, who makes it Scripture? The one to whom they were bearing witness – Jesus, because he is who he is.
MM: The Old Testament was an unfinished story. It’s a tremendous story and you just wonder where is it going, where is it going? Until Jesus comes along. Ah, this was what it was all pointing to.
JM: And nobody liked it.
CBK: The players didn’t like it, but the thing is, the real author of Scripture knew that even though the players didn’t, and he counted all the players’ rejection of their own messiah to accomplish reconciliation, and the real players in the story had no clue. We were talking last night about, that Caiaphas was the only high priest in the whole history of Israel that did his job. He offered up the one acceptable sacrifice – and he did it for the wrong reason. He did it to save himself and the people, and he was doing that. That’s a picture of how God is a great chess player. It’s just three-dimensional chess, and he’s way ahead of what we think is going on. And it’s revealed to us in Jesus. Then we get it. There’s the purpose of God in creation – it’s the union between humanity and Christ.
JMF: Barth talks of the debt of gratitude we owe the Jews for bringing about exactly what they were intended to bring about…
CBK: T.F. Torrance calls it “the womb of the incarnation,” which is just a fantastic [image?].
JT: I think it is vital to understand it in this context that you’re now presenting, because I’ve met Christians and non-Christians who have a very different view – in fact, they might look first at the angelic creation and see that a third rebelled, and so Plan A failed. Then he creates Adam and Eve, and humanity falls, Plan B fails, and so now we come to the Incarnation, and now we are already to Plan C, God has failed a couple of times.
CBK: Yeah, Israel failed,… The incarnate Son and the relationship that he has with his Father and the Spirit and the human race and all of creation in himself, that union, that covenant relationship – between the Father, Son, and Spirit and the human race and creation, that is not an after-thought that God quickly thought of after – Adam fails, my creation fell, I’ve got to come up with another one – that is Plan A – in the light of which we now understand what’s going on with creation, and we now understand what the calling of Israel is about. We now understand what the calling of the church is about.
SH: To use your analogy with a three-dimensional chess board, when God created everything, he had checkmate.
JM: I was surprised that you’d be like in either four or ten, eleven dimensions.
JT: However many dimensions there are, checkmate in all.
CBK: That’s the beauty – Jesus is the light of the cosmos – not just the light of the Christian church. He’s not only the one in and through and by whom are all things, but FOR him. Here, in this person, and in the relationship between – God on the one side and the human race in another that exists in his very identity – here we see what God is up to from all eternity. This is the revelation, this is the unfolding of what’s been hidden and we could not conceive of. That’s a Christological hermeneutic – that’s the truth of all truths, that’s the way to think as a Christian.
JM: Every time you are going to read covenant renewal in the Old Testament, you are asked not only to read God with his people, but the creation is always asked, called upon, to bear witness to what he is doing with his people. God never just bears witness to himself, between himself and his people. He always says, “Heaven, come over here and look at this. Earth, come over here and listen to this, because I’m speaking with my people and you’re my witness.” The creation, the cosmos, is always a part of every covenant renewal you’ll ever read throughout the whole Bible.
JMF: God enters into covenant relationship with Israel numerous times in the Old Testament “that all nations might know that I am the Lord.”
JM: Yeah, that’s very important.
MM: To be a light to the nations.
CBK: Cause Israel did what the Calvinists do, and what the church typically does, which is “we’re in and you’re out, and this is for us, and God loves us and does not love everybody else.” He says, no, I’m calling you Abraham, I will bless you, I’m going to protect you, and I love you, and through you I’m going to reach the world.
The restoration of relationships
JMF: One of the stated purposes of Perichoresis under your supervision is recovering a relational vision that reflects the union of the triune God, the human race, and all creation, in Christ. Promotes healing for relationships, marriages and families, and establishes a framework for international relations. That is a tall order, and yet it accurately reflects what the gospel is all about.
CBK: It looks like, if it’s a goal, it’s a tall order. How in the world are you going to do that? But if it’s a reflection of the international relation that’s established in Jesus, of the healing for all relationships – marriage and family and racial, and sexual – if it’s a Christological statement, then it’s not a tall order, something that’s been accomplished that’s not being revealed. The more you focus on Jesus in terms of, he is the Father’s Son and the Anointed One, and he is the one in, through, and by him all things are created, the more you focus on his identity, the more you realize, he is the point of union – he is the point of relationships. And he’s already accomplished it in himself in his own person.
Now comes our education, our coming to realize that these divisions that we create because of our own insecurities, and anxieties, and darkness, are false divisions. We have a responsibility – a global responsibility, too, because the cosmos is bound up in Jesus’ relationship with us. I’m a part of Jesus’ relationship with you, and with people in Australia or India or Russia, this is of a piece IN Christ. That warrants as a framework that says, “Wait a minute. We’ve got to re-think things here.” Because it’s easy just to say global and national divisions and religious divisions and even in the Christian church, a couple of thousands of denominations within the Christian community, within the Protestant community. But underneath that there is a oneness that we have in Jesus, and that’s why Paul says, “be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Because the unity… don’t create it, it’s there in Christ. Preserve it. Stay focused on that, and that liberates you from recognizing people or nations according to the flesh.
JT: That leads to a question that we get asked when we’re talking about the Incarnation and all that it implies, and how we participate in the divine nature – some will level the accusation that we’re just teaching a form of universalism. How do you answer that?
CBK: I wish I could. I wish and pray that the whole human race comes to see the truth. I have my doubts about certain denominations, but I am not a doctrinal universalist. I am a hopeful universalist. The world is reconciled to Christ, we’re included in the family, Jesus has established a relationship with all of us. He sent the Holy Spirit to enlighten us, and it is possible for us to say consistently again, and again, and again – even indefinitely – say, “no, I’m going to live in my own world. I’m going to live in the way that I see things, the way that I see God. I’ve got my theology, I’ve got my vision of God, I’ve got my vision of the world, I’ve got my vision of what Jesus did, and I am god. My vision is what counts, and Jesus, you line up with me and everybody in the planet line up with me.”
That creates chaos and conflict and internal pain, and it’s possible for that to be an indefinite position. But God never changes, and this is important, that what we do (or do not do) does not have the capacity to change the being of God or his relationship with us that he has established. We’re not talking about changing God from being a Father back into being a judge. We’re talking about the fact the he has bound himself in relationship with us. That is never changing – the Spirit is haunting us and trying to enlighten us, and that’s the state of things.
Now, how it comes out? We’re not in a position to say with any kind of dogmatic reference. It’s theoretically possible that no one would get it, no one would see. It’s theoretically possible that almost everyone, or even indeed all, will come to see. There are people that I respect, George McDonald and Thomas Erskine among them, great thinking Christian godly men, that the love of the Father poured forth from both of them. They both were committed universalists. They just believe that the love of the Father was going to win, it was just impossible not to. I think, that’s probably … that’s good.
But I just can’t say that. So, I’m not a universalist, but I understand why people who are operating out of a legal framework can only hear me saying that, because for them, if you pray to receive Jesus, then you’ve got a ticket to heaven and you’re going. And if everybody’s got a ticket, then everybody’s going to go to heaven. But the plain fact is that there are people who don’t want to go. They may have a ticket and the trip paid for, but they don’t want to participate in it. It’s not going away, it’s a very miserable form of existence.
JMF: C.S.Lewis’ book, The Great Divorce …
CBK: Fantastic book.
JMF: … talks about that.
JT: That was a nice turn of phrase the way you’ve explained that, they have a paid ticket in their pocket but they don’t want to use it.
CBK: In C.S. Lewis’s image, the door of heaven is always open, and even the door of hell, and maybe it’s the same door. It’s not “we died, and God goes back into being God, and forget this Father, Son, Spirit stuff, and forget this covenant relationship. Sorry, all that’s over, you had your chance, now it’s gone in flames.” It’s covenant relationship, and where are you in the journey? Whether you see or whether you don’t see, you’re not changing God in this.
JT: I think you will agree with me, it’s almost an odd question about “are you a universalist” because when I look at the early church fathers, they all wrote with a hope that everyone ….
CBK: They believed in a cosmic Jesus. They believed that Jesus is the one who has reconciled the cosmos, and so they were looking for the manifestation and the revelation of that, and they wanted to participate in the unveiling of that. Our Jesus in the West today is (for Pete’s sake), without the church he can’t even have a voice. It’s like we make Jesus Lord of our lives – who’s lord, then? The announcement is he is Lord, he has come and established a relationship with us; therefore quit living in your own world and come live with him in his. Walk with him. Let him disciple you. Let him teach you about the Father.
JT: There’s a real difference, and I’d like to hear you comment on this, between living in his faith and working up your own faith.
JMF: I hate to say it, but we’re going to have to save that for another time, and I hope we can come back together very soon to discuss that point, but we are at the end of our time together.
Dr. Baxter Kruger is author of The Great Dance: The Christian Vision Revisited. That book is available at the Perichoresis website at www.perichoresis.org. It’s been a great pleasure to have you here with us, and you, Steve, and thanks everybody on our panel, and we hope to see you again soon.