Here is an important and useful principle of biblical studies: There’s less contest about what a text says in view of the context. Let’s look at two passages along with two other verses which might serve as a framework for our understanding of the Christian doctrine of Redemption. Then, we’ll discuss the resurrection of our Lord as we consider the theological foundation for our call to the work of redemption. In other words, we’re looking at: What is the doctrine of redemption? And how is it Christian (that is, how is it not just humanistic morality)?
The Christian Doctrine of Redemption
Let’s begin with Acts 10.9-15: As the Holy Spirit of God is beginning to establish the Early Church, some of its would-be leaders are being trained (by God himself!) on certain foundational theological matters, one of which has to do with the Mosaic Law of the Old Covenant. Is it lawful to eat only certain kinds of foods made from particular animals and not others? Or is all that God has made indeed “clean”? The resounding answer from the Lord of all creation is that all creation is of the Lord.
And all things are “for the Lord”; this is why all of life is worship: because all that we have and do and say and think are avenues of worshipping the Creator of all that we have and do and say and think about. We know that all things are for the Lord – truly all things: from governments to gourmet dishes – as we read in Colossians: “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him” (1.16). Paul details the list of “all things” even further in 1 Timothy chapter four where he argues that, contrary to those who “devot[e] themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons … , who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created” (vv. 1-3) – contrary to such demonic teaching (!), Paul reminds us that: “[E]verything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer” (vv. 4-5). Everything in life is to be enjoyed and engaged in their own right – e.g., proper marriage, various foods, political life, hip hop culture – insofar as they are enjoyed and engaged as one prayerfully considers what the Scriptures have to say about them.
To note, this seemingly new lesson for the leaders of the Early Church is really not so new at all. As we read in Genesis chapter 1, verse 31: “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” Of course, given the doctrine of the Fall, we understand that the world and all that is in it has been deeply marred by the groaning effects of sin and evil. For this reason, as we saw earlier, all of creation longs for restoration, shalom. And this is precisely where redemption comes in: all those in Christ are made new for the sake of joining with God in making all things new (2 Cor. 5.17-21).
So, then: Acts 10 alongside 1 Timothy 4, undergirded by Colossians 1 and Genesis 1, should help us to take on a very wide view of a Christian theology of redemption – indeed a worldview view!
A Robust View of the Resurrection
Now for the second main points of today’s lecture: how the resurrection of our Lord undergirds, or provides the theological grounds of, our participation in the cosmic redemption project. In other words, how is participating with God in his cosmic redemption program different from merely living morally?
There are three key ways that the doctrine of Redemption is connected to the Resurrection of our Lord: (1) by personal identification – in salvation we die and rise again with Christ (cf. Ro. 6.4-8); (2) by communal membership – we enter into a community which reflects the message of the Resurrection by our very life together, i.e., from liturgical practices such as the eucharist to the “mercy ministries” of serving at the local soup kitchen (cf. Ro. 12-13); and (3) by verbal proclamation – individually and collectively we announce the good news of the basis of Christian redemption, i.e., the Resurrection (cf. Ro. 10.9-17). In these three ways – by participation in the death and new life of Christ, by participation in the Body of Christ (his Church), and by participation in the gospel of Christ – we redeem the world for Christ.
So: when we build universities and hospitals; when we start NGOs and for-profit companies; when we create art and build arguments; when we attend church service and prioritize mid-week small group meetings – in all these acts, we are participating in the redemption of this world. Likewise, when authors write books (and live out their theses!) on creation care; when engineers travel 10,000 miles to help rebuild a city devastated by an earthquake; when sociologists, psychologists, and journalists critique something in the public square; when parents raise another generation of faithful followers of Jesus – in all these acts, again we redeem the world. We must keep in mind (again) that intimacy precedes impact. Theologically speaking, the indicative drives the imperative (Eph. Chs. 1 and 4; 2 Co. 5.17-21).
Critique a crisis
Speaking of critique: this is a very important concept. The notion of critique has originally to do with the idea of correctly assessing and suggesting a remedy for a given crisis infecting the public life of a given society. Making critique a key part of one’s engagement with the world – one’s participation in redemption – is a very Christian thing to do. Indeed, it is rather Judeo-Christian in that the prophets of old were essentially the equivalent of a modern-day social critic: they stood (sometimes literally) on the margins of society, looked into a given malaise of sin in the community, and offered a critical word for the health of its people.
In Ecclesiastes we read that there is a time for building up and a time for tearing down (cf. 3.1-8); and tearing down is not just physical: it’s also intellectual. But the intellectual “tearing down” is not done for its own sake. Almost anyone can say what is wrong with a given state affairs. Rather, critique is different from mere complaint in that true critique – i.e., Christian redemption – is a “tearing down” which ultimately seeks to edify or “build up” – i.e., to redeem the goodness, truth, beauty that has been lost.
As an example of critiquing a cultural artifact through a Christian worldview, an artifact which we must remember is situated always within a given cultural world-setting, let us consider a “secular” song …
I would like to end with three principles of Christian Redemption. A theologically and practically Christian way to redeem the world with GTB is:
(1) … by Appreciation not Absorption (Ro. 12.2).
- Be in but not of the world; and be not afraid of the world (Jn. 17.15-17).
- Learn to speak second-first languages (cf. 1 Co. 9.22b).
- The “Grand Age of Apologetics” – speaking in multi-vocal contexts
(2) … in Between war and wonderment
- “Go Hard” by Tadashi AND
i. You only live once, so …
ii. IC vs. CI
iii. Chaplain Chester
iv. Gen. 2.2; Exo. 31.15-17
- How to know when to do what?
i. “If hell is real, why spend time on YouTube?” Is this right?
ii. A time for everything (cf. Ecc. 3); but timing is important (Ex. Obama on vacation)
iii. Mentors can help
(3) … through Communities/networks
- Redeem in teams (Acts 15.36-41).
 For more on these three connections between redemption and the resurrection, see Plantinga, 81-100.