Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Creation, by Justo Gonzalez

Chapter 3 
The Human Creature

  1. We often talk about people worrying about the kind of image they portray. How important is image and status in your church? 

  1. What is the community’s image of your church? 

  1. What kind of reputation does your church have? 

  1. How important is a person’s reputation? 

  1. What kinds of things damage or bolster a person’s image or reputation? 

  1. How can we be God’s representatives in our world? 

  1. Share a time when someone represented you or when you represented someone (for example, your family, your business, your friend). 

  1. When someone represents you, what do you expect? 

  1. Discuss the power of words. What kinds of words are helpful and hurtful? 

  1. Share a time when someone told you they loved you. 

  1. Think and talk about ways that God shows us God’s love.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Creation, by Justo Gonzalez

Chapter 2

1. Reread the first three chapters of Genesis. What jumps out at you today?

2. Briefly compare the two creation stories.  Which story do you prefer?

3. Why might there be two different stories of creation in the Bible?

4. What does it mean that the greatest act of God’s love is taking a risk on us?

5. Share a time when you took a risk.  Are you typically a risk-tolerant or risk-adverse person?

6. The author says that what should concern us about creation is not how the world was made, but who made it.  Is this true for you?

7.  Why do people argue over the how?

8.  The author says that the “doctrine of creation is neither only nor even primarily about origins, but rather about relationships: about the relationship between God and the world, between God and us, among us and others, and among all creatures.”  

- Share a time when you felt close to God. 
- How do you see God reflected in nature?  
- In other people?  
- In yourself?

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Creation, by Justo Gonzalez

Chapter 1
 What Do We Mean by Creation?

1.  What is something that you have created?  

2.  Do you consider yourself a creative person?

3.  Think of people whom you know who are creative. 
     What makes them creative?

4.  Share a moment when you experienced the wonder of God’s   

5.  When people talk about creation care, what does it mean to you?

6.  According to your understanding of the Bible, what are our 
     responsibilities to care for God’s creation?

7.  How are people reflections of God’s image?

8.  In what ways can you reflect God in your daily life?

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Incarnation, by Will Willimon

Chapter 4

1. The Incarnation is not proved in complex thinking, but rather in faithful living as we attempt to embody in our earthly, human lives the divine mystery of the God who refused to be God without us.

- Why is incarnation more about embodiment than mere thinking?

2.We learned in Jesus that God is so completely loving, so determined to tabernacle and to have relationship with us, that God shows up often at the most inopportune moments and in the most unlikely places.  The Trinity is relentlessly determined to self-reveal.

- What is our motivation for limiting God’s reach in our lives?

3. There is no soul apart from the body, no Holy Spirit without the Incarnate Son, no resurrection without the body.  If Jesus had not taken on flesh, we would not have known that God is embodied.  We would not have known where to look for God in human history.  As for us, we are bodies groaning for redemption of our bodies (Rom. 8:22-23.)

- How might we interpret the truth of each sentence above?

4. The Incarnation also implies that truth is personal, embodied.  What is the Christian faith about?  It is about Jesus, the one who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”  We do not worship principles, abstractions, propositions, or an ancient book.  We worship the man, Jesus.  His voice calls to us, seeking out his lost sheep, inviting us to his table.

Who is Jesus to you?  How have you come to know & love him?
5. The humility of Christ reveals the divine precisely in its manner of being human. We are most human not in our heroic, Promethean achievements, our vaunted intellect, or our will to power; we are most human in our loving, humble, self-sacrificial service to others in need. Just like Jesus.

- Why is the degree of our humanity measured by outward rather than inward goals?

6. It is somewhat of a find that Jesus grows, learns, and has ambiguous interactions with his parents.  Young Jesus asks questions, but he also answers them.  How sad that some Christians (like those who would never take the trouble to read a book on the Incarnation) think they do not need to grow and learn.

- What does it mean that even Jesus depends on learning curves?

7.  Most of the time, the church seems aloof from their lives and unaware of their need.  The Christian faith appears complicated, judgmental, and arcane.  God? A vague, remote enigma.  But on Christmas Eve, when a young lector pronounces, “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us,” they understand that this is a word from God to them.  The truth about God is that God is for us.  Love moves the world, all the way down.  Our destiny is communion rather than oblivion.  Jesus Christ is God With Us.  This is the most important word Christians have to say to the world.  This, the grandeur of Incarnation.

How has this book helped you to further understand and value Incarnation?

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Incarnation, by Will Willimon

Chapter 3

1.  Quite early on, the church realized that to get Christ wrong is to get God wrong. It took us four centuries to find ideas commensurate with the reality of Incarnation. We tried simpler solutions but none of them worked.

- What do the ancient heresies of Adoptionism, Docetism, & Arianism have in common with today’s confusion over the Incarnation?

2. The Doctrine of the Incarnation is opposed to all theories that surmise Jesus as a mere theophany, a transitory appearance by God in human form, such as we often meet among the world’s religions.  Jesus is actually the full truth about God, God’s descent to us, because we could not progress up toward God.

- Why are some resistant to Jesus embodying the full truth about God?

3.  His own experience of the Incarnation led Paul to tell the struggling little band at Corinth that even in their difficulties they must not forget that “the world, life, death, things in the present, things in the future—everything belongs to you, but you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God” (1 Cor. 3:22). It’s a rather preposterous claim to make for the poor Corinthians—unless the Incarnation is true.

- How does Paul’s claim clarify our ultimate need of belonging?

4.  Look at, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life.”  Sometimes the church acts as if what Jesus said was, “For God so loved me and my church friends who resemble me...” thus limiting the scope and salvation in Incarnation.

Give some examples of when we do the latter.

5. Incarnation is an aspect of the Atonement, God’s setting right things between us and God.  Bethlehem and Golgotha are linked.  
In Jesus Christ, God said a divine, dramatic, loving yesto us; the God of the cross also said a resounding, decisive noto how we were living and to what we made of the world.  Christ loved us enough to become one with us as we are, but Christ loved us enough not to leave us as we are.  As the creed proclaims, he became incarnate, “for us and for our salvation,” not simply to affirm our humanity or to condone our continued sin. 

- In your own words, describe how Bethlehem & Golgotha are linked.

6. In the rhythm of the church’s worship, we experience Incarnation.  The pattern of prayer and praise that we follow on Sunday morning is a very human activity that takes place in earthly space and time.  We dare to believe that God uses these thoroughly human activities – bathing, eating, and drinking – to come very close to us in all of God’s holy otherness.

- How do the sacraments of Baptism & Eucharist shape our contextual relationship with this present, living God?

7.  I asked a distinguished new church planter what virtue he most admired in a potential new church planter.  “A robust theology of Incarnation,” he replied.  “Only someone who believes that God is relentlessly reaching out to save the world has the drive to birth a new church.”

How does your understanding of Incarnation motivate you to reach out to others in the spirit of the gospel?

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Incarnation, by Will Willimon

Chapter 2

1. We are forever saying that we want God to show up. “If only you would tear open the heavens and come down!” pleads the prophet (Isa. 64:1). We find ourselves in a mess and know that the mess is so great that no one could get us out but God. A consistent biblical claim is that God always shows up, not always when we demand, but shows up nevertheless.

- What examples can you share from your life where God showed up?

2.These days, the challenge of believing the Doctrine of Incarnation is not in believing that God might come. After all, we are such adorable creatures, we modern people. The challenge today is the same as it has always been in our reception of God: to receive God as God comes to us. The jolt is not so much that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself; it’s that God was in Christ.

- Where have you bumped into difficulty receiving God in this way?

3. Perhaps last Sunday there was a respectable number at your church to worship God. But even a big crowd is still a minority of people in town. Most of these non-attenders are not hostile to the Christian faith; they just don’t get it. For them, Christmas is a holiday, a grand time to eat and to drink too much, to spend too much, and to travel too far. When Christians gather to sing, “Joy to the world, the Lord has come!” the majority of the world he came to save just doesn’t get it. The people “comprehend it not.”

- As Christians, what might our response be to this lack of response?

4. So if my exposition of the Incarnation is incomprehensible, relax; take heart. That’s a typical reaction to the Word Made Flesh. If, however, as strange as this word sounds, you hear an address to you, John says that you are a new creation; like Genesis 1–2 all over again, the light really does shine in the darkness for you. 

“Those who did welcome him, those who believed in his name, he authorized to become God’s children, born not from blood nor from human desire or passion, but born from God” (John 1:12). Furthermore, if you stick with these words, words that you cannot speak to yourself, they become the very source of your life: “If you continue in my word . . . you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31 NRSV). These words proclaim God’s gracious solution to the problem between you and God: “You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you” (John 15:3 NRSV). You are a new creation. You carry God’s light with you in a dark world.

How would you describe the “light” you bear?  Where does it shine?

5. I’ve seen the world try to turn a child into a grasping, materialistic, self-centered dolt, the embodiment of some people’s “American Dream,” only to watch God work through the church to transform that child into a caring, compassionate Christian. The world tried to overtake the Light of the World, and surprise, the world got overtaken!

- Share an example of this transformation in someone you know well.

6. As the Word spoken by the prophets, made manifest in the commandments, becomes flesh in Jesus Christ, the Word is then preached and given flesh and blood in the preaching, hearing, and active witness of the congregation. When you consider all of the possibilities against the faith, it’s amazing that so many—when faced with a strange, inexplicable wonder like Incarnation—comprehend the truth, believe, and bow before it. That you are taking the trouble to read this book about the Incarnation, that you are able to stand and sing at the Feast of the Nativity, “Hark! the herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the newborn King,’” is a virtual proof of the reality of Incarnation. Shine, Jesus shine.

- How have you seen the Word preached, heard, and witnessed among us at church and in our community?

- Why is this “power” so influential and transformational?

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Incarnation, by Will Willimon

Chapter 1

1. Every religion offers to help us finite creatures climb up to or dig deep into the infinite. Only Christianity contends that the infinite descended, taking the form of our finitude—Incarnation. This book is the good news that we need not climb up to God; in Jesus Christ, God comes down to us. God is inaccessible to us not only because God reigns in highest heaven and we are down here in the muck and mire of earth. God is inaccessible not only to human sight but also to human reason. Incarnation is the counterintuitive, not-believed-by-nine-out-of-ten-Americans assertion that even though we could not avail ourselves of God, God lovingly became available. God condescended to be God With Us.

- How does Incarnation theology stack up against modern forms of self-designed spirituality?

2. Not that Jesus Christ—as the visible image of the invisible God—is obviously, self-evidently God. From the first, most people who encountered Jesus said not, “That Jew from Nazareth is God!” but instead, “That’s not the way God is supposed to look.” A word of warning: most of us have been indoctrinated into the modern, Western conviction that we already have the ability to think clearly about anything. We have all we require innately, on our own, to think clearly and truthfully about whatever we choose. Our democratic sensibilities are therefore offended by the thought that the meaning of God is a gift given to some, a phenomenon that we lack the innate skills to comprehend on our own. God must reveal the truth to us or we can’t know it.

- “Why isn’t Jesus Christ’s divinity more obvious?”

3. The Scriptures tell us the truth about Jesus, who is in turn the truth about God. If any of us limited creatures is able to comprehend, to believe, and in believing to stake our lives upon the one who was “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), that believing is also a miraculous work of God among us. Thus we, by the grace of God in our lives, become living testimony of the truth of Incarnation. 
Theologian Karl Barth said that if you are able to believe in the strange, wondrous birth, your belief is a miracle akin to the miraculous birth of Jesus.

- Why is our faith in Jesus described as a miracle?

4. However, in the Incarnation, God (as Gregory of Nazianzus put it) “remained what he was and took up what he was not.” God became human without diminishment of God’s divinity; God’s divinity thoroughly embraced our humanity. Thus, our reconciliation to God is affected not by something we do (as in Mormonism’s theology of human ascent) but by something that God has done and continues to do in Jesus Christ (God’s gracious descent).

How do you get your head around this truth and how does it shape your relationship with Jesus?

5. Jesus was no disembodied spirit fluttering above human life. Clearly, he cared about real people who were caught in real, earthly, human binds—babies to be birthed, children to be raised, bills to be paid, and an upper room to be prepared. He gathered disciples and embraced the hungry multitudes. He healed the sick, cast out demons, and invited ordinary folk to walk with him. When he noted hunger, he offered bread. When the wine ran out, he made more. Rather than providing people an escape route out of this world, he intruded into the full, tragic human condition, modeling a new way of living in this world. You can almost taste the dust as he walks along Galilee’s roads. The Gospels speak of him not in the fashion of a “Once upon a time in a faraway land,” but rather by locating him in real time, such as “during the reign of Caesar Augustus,” and in real places like Bethlehem and Golgotha. He not only brought a message that was addressed to real people and their real-people problems; he also fully embodied that message in his life in this real world. He thereby showed us that his “kingdom” was no dreamy fantasy but a place to be lived in here and now.

- In what ways is Jesus most “real” to you on a daily basis?

6. Even as I attempt to describe the basics of Hegel’s panentheism, you may be thinking that you have previously encountered Hegelianism and didn’t know it. Much of what passes for “Creation Spirituality,” or “New Age Spirituality” these days is panentheism in new garb. If we are thinking about God, or matters of the spirit, there must be a way to think without recourse to the grubby particularities of earthly matters, so Hegelians of every age have argued. Religion progresses (or more accurately, recesses) into ever more vague platitudes, ever more distant from the death and decay of worldly existence.

- Where have you encountered such pantheism?  What tipped you off?

7. There is no veil we must lift and peek behind, no set of undiscovered sacred texts, no archaeological discovery yet to be made that can tell us more than God has graciously revealed to us about Christ. Of course, knowing about Christ—facts and figures, the stuff of human knowing—is not enough. Post-Resurrection, we “know” Christ as fully human and fully divine by a way of knowing that is more adventurous than most of what passes for knowledge in the modern world. Only faith can lead us to be able to declare with the whole church down through the ages, “God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ” (2 Cor. 5:19).

- How is faith able to surpass knowledge?  
- Why is it preferable to the latter?

8. Faith is the name for what happens when human reason encounters and submits to the nature and reality of God as God is self-disclosed in Jesus Christ. Fortunately for sincere seekers after God, the Incarnation demonstrates that we have a God who relentlessly self-discloses.

What does this insightful statement say to you about your own relationship with God in Christ?

9.  An aloof, allegedly caring but inactive, spiritual, vague deity is perfectly designed for modern Western people who have been conditioned to organize the world around themselves. A self-fabricated “god” (that is, idol) is always easier to get along with than the true and living God who is considerably more than a figment of our imagination. The shear strangeness of the Doctrine of the Incarnation makes it difficult to say that here is an idea of God that we came up with on our own.

How does this assessment speak truth to cultural trends of idolatry?