Participation as a Correction of “Dominion Theology”

As I’ve been thinking more about the topic of participation in Paul’s letters, I’ve realized that participation theology (that is, a solid understanding of the believer dying and rising with Christ), may serve as a needed corrected to some aspects of Charismatic theology. Let’s start with a bit of background. Protestantism historically has embraced a pessimistic attitude toward humanity, even toward the believer. Especially for Luther, the believer remains plagued with sin, while still a saint, and must cling by faith to the coming deliverance of Christ. Justification is something God does for the believer, once and for all, in the cross. It is imputed to the believer, but the believer’s is still torn between both flesh and Spirit (à la Romans 7). There may also be a tendency to delay the “good things” about believers into a future age, whether it’s inheritance, sanctification, etc.

What a lot of Charismatic theology has done is reclaim the good things the New Testament has to say about the believer. Charismatics love passages like Ephesians 2:3-10, where the believers are portrayed as being seated with Christ in the Heavenly realms. We love Romans 8, and the triumphant “Life by the Spirit.” We love 2 Cor 5:17-21, where the believer is called a new creation! We definitely love statements like, “As the father has sent me, so I send you.” The miraculous aspects of Jesus’ ministry typically follow. Some Charismatics go so far to promulgate a “Dominion Theology” where Christians are supposed to “reign with Jesus” in places of leadership throughout the secular world. See this for a bit more info.

On the whole, I think this a good progression from Luther’s pessimism, but it does have some problems. First, there are a few practical problems. An exalted view of the believer is an easy recipe for spiritual arrogance and pride. The prosperity gospel probably came from this imbalance. Also, it can lead to some existential quandaries. Sometimes, life sucks. Even if I’m a son of God, I sure don’t always feel like it! Along with this, any struggle is automatically because of demonic oppression. Or, if God doesn’t answer my prayer, my faith is really shaken!

The traditional doctrine of justification actually encourages these, in my mind. The problem is that the cross is thought of primarily (or exclusively) as something that God did through Jesus for us. This is absolutely true! But it’s not the complete story. We are also called to emulate the cross, to participate in the dying and rising with Christ. We Charismatics love to emphasize the power of resurrection without the suffering of the cross, but God calls us to both. They’re definitely linked in Paul’s mind. Philippians 3:10-11 is a very good example of this, “I want to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” This balance is absolutely crucial. It helps us make sense of the challenges of life (which sometimes get downright terrible; but then again, so was the cross!). I helps us make sense of the awesome points of life (after all, we’re sharing in the power of his resurrection!). It helps us remember that the way to exaltation and glorification is through the the Cross, the way of humility. We are heirs with Christ, but this involves sharing in his suffering (Romans 8:17).

Overall, I think that a robust “participationist” reading of Paul will help us live much more effectively. It helps us remain humble in suffering while celebrating the glorious parts in the life of the believer. Charismatics heartily embrace the power of the Resurrection. Hopefully we can embrace the suffering of the Cross as well.


The Holy Spirit and the Family of God (From Galatians)

[This was composed for and originally posted on my campus ministry’s website: on August 26, 2009]

A few words are in order before I dive into the text. First, welcome! I’m hoping that this blog will be, among other things, a delightful record of our study of God. More than that, I’m hoping that it will be a challenging record of God’s study of us. As we gaze upon God, we are hopefully challenged, inspired, amazed, and humbled. We feel love and love; receive grace, and give it. What I hope to highlight in this post, primarily through the letter of Galatians, is the familial aspects of the Trinity. More specifically, I want to examine the role the Holy Spirit plays in God’s family. Hopefully this will help us as a group relate better to the person of the Holy Spirit, and better understand his role as a member of the Trinity.

Because I’m drawing mostly from Galatians, a little bit of context for the letter is due. This is one of Paul’s first letters, written to a young and budding group of believers in Galatia, a church which Paul himself had founded. The church was budding, but also had problems. While the church was predominately Gentile (non Jewish), a group of people, presumably Jews, were throwing young Christians into confusion. These people were insisting that faith in Jesus was not enough, that what truly marked God’s family was the Jewish law, especially circumcision. This was causing all sorts of dissension within the church, creating division rather than unity. Paul spent most of his effort addressing this problem.

Paul responds by first establishing his authority. Although he formerly persecuted the church, he had had an experience with the risen Jesus that was separate from those of the 12 apostles. He had received revelation directly from Jesus; he hadn’t made up the gospel or gotten it from someone else. Nevertheless, he was in agreement with the other apostles. He had stayed with them on several occasions.

In chapter 3, Paul launches into a detailed examination of the Old Testament. His goal here is to show that everyone, whether Jew or Gentile, is to be part of God’s family. Nothing more is required. In fact, by going further, one is in danger of separating what God intended to be joined. Paul goes back to Abraham, arguing that the promise given to Abraham is not set aside by the Mosaic law. Rather, the law was “put in charge to lead us to Christ.” His entire is argument is beyond the scope of this post, but I believe his goal in chapter 3 is to get to verse 26: “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” He wants the Galatians to realize that they are already members of God’s family. Because of Christ’s work, all of those with faith in Christ Jesus are part of the family. Faith becomes the determining marker of God’s family. It’s not circumcision, gender, or social status: only faith.

Chapter 4 begins by noting that, not only are we children, but we have received an inheritance. This inheritance is the “spirit of his son … by which we call out ‘Daddy! Father!'” By the time he returns to Old Testament discussion in verse 21, he continues to discuss family. This time, he uses the story of Hagar and Sarah to illustrate the fact that they are children of the promise, not the children born into slavery. This in turn launches into a discussion of Christian liberty in chapter 5. Finally, in chapter 6 he exhorts them to keep running the race, to focus on the cross of Christ, to not give up or give in.

And where is the Holy Spirit in this? His activity pervades throughout Paul’s thinking and writing. The aspect I wish to bring light to is the Spirit’s activity in the family of God. For Paul, the Holy Spirit is intimately connected with the becoming a Christian, with becoming part of the family. In chapter 4, he declares that, just as Isaac was born by the power of the Spirit, so were we. Also, the Spirit does what the law cannot, impart life. What strikes me is not only how personal the Holy Spirit is, but how active he is in the family of God. The Eastern Orthodox churches, which have historically had a much fuller view of the Holy Spirit than the West, have sometimes caricatured the Western view of God as “two guys and a bird.” But we see the Holy Spirit birthing us as sons and daughters, imparting our very life in God, our breath in God. We see him bearing witness to this with miracles. We see this all on the basis of faith in the Jesus, and not our background. As we try to walk by the Spirit, may we not view him as a mysterious force, or as somehow less a person that the Father and the Son. Instead, may we walk with him as he is, a vivacious, active God who births, marks, and testifies to our membership in the family of God, who empowers us to overcome the sinful nature, and in whom we eagerly await the judgment day, the day where God will put the whole world to rights and fulfill new creation.