Theology of Joy
10/16/09 at 09:47 AM 0 Comments

Communicating the Gospel with Postmodernists (Part 3)

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II. The role of the ambassador

How can God's kingly Authority, as presented in the historical document of scripture, be "seen" and "felt" in present, postmodern life and culture?  Paul seems to give us an answer to this thorny question in 1 and 2 Corinthians.  Here he demonstrates how God's eternal authority is brought to bear in the present. He also shows us how we, as Christ's "ambassadors", can represent Christ in our own spheres of influence so that people see God's authority working on their behalf.

A. Examining 1 Corinthians 2:4-5

In this passage, Paul demonstrates how God's eternal authority is brought to bear in the way he communicates. "My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power."

In verse 4, Paul says that the delivery of his message (logos) and the message itself (kerugma) were clear demonstrations of the Holy Spirit's power.  "Demonstration" means "rigorous proof," convincing logic that brings God's eternal wisdom to bear on the human mind.  In verse 5 we see Paul's goal behind this: "that your faith might not rest on the wisdom of men but on the power [dunamis] of God."1  Morris comments that Paul wants to "ground his converts in the divine power and make them independent of human wisdom."2   The Corinthians were not to put their faith in some human "metanarrative" (see Communicating the Gospel with Posmodernists, Part 2), but in the present working of God's Spirit. The Spirit is seen here as the one who delivers "power" from the eternal God to the benefit of faith-seekers.  God's authority is seen as benefitting and empowering believers. As a result, their faith can rest upon the security of God's authority.

B. Examining 2 Corinthians 5:18-20

It is amazing to think that the words of the Christian ambassador help to establish "faith."  In Paul's second letter to the Corinthians, we see precisely how this happens.  In 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 we learn that Christ's ambassadors have been given a portion of God's authority through which God "appeals" to people in the present world: "All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting men's sins against them. And he gave us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God."

In verse 19, Paul explains that God was "in Christ (His living logos) reconciling the world to himself," and that He then "gave us the message (logos) of reconciliation."  This is what God has done for us in the past.  However, so that we do not remain stuck in the past, Paul turns to present (in verse 20): "Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making his appeal through us . . ."   Here he plainly states that God is actually speaking through the messenger of the Word of God.  The manner in which God is "appealing" is significant.  This word means to entreat, implore, exhort, comfort, or encourage, and is used 15 other times in Paul's letters to the Corinthians, often as a passionate plea toward godly living.  God has provided reconciliation through Christ in the past, and is now making a passionate appeal in the present, pleading with hearers of Paul's message to receive this word (logos) of reconciliation. 

God, however, is making this appeal through His ambassador.  The word presbeuvomen often refers to an elder or one with wisdom of age, but here is used in a political sense (as one who acts under the authority of another nation, Kingdom, or King).  God is the King who makes his appeal through the ambassador, and the appeal is to those who do not yet live under the King's authority.  The imagery of a high authority having stooped down to make a merciful plea cannot be missed.  

The Corinthian view of authority was quite at odds with the traditional Hebrew view. This pagan colony was without tradition or well-established citizens.3  "Corinthians were rootless, cut off from their country background, drawn from races and districts all over the empire . . . a curiously close parallel to the population of a 20th Century inner-city."4 Corinthian idolatry, sensuality, and paganism ran even wilder than in neighboring Athens, where pagans worshipped an "unknown God" (Acts 17:23).  The Greek word for leading a debauched life was "Korinthianazein"--to live like a Corinthian.  Temple prostitutes numbered over 1000, and idolatry, cultic practices, and homosexual indulgence ran rampant.5

God's appeal in this passage is surrounded by reminders of His "irrational" act of pardon and atonement in Christ: God was "not counting men's sins against them" (5:19) and "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (5:21).   To the average Corinthian these were remarkable yet welcome statements.  Corinthians would never be able to accept a legalistic authority such as the one promoted by the Pharisees.  But a God who stepped down from heaven to get involved with the Corinthian's sin was one they could relate to.   Also, in a culture which valued sensuality over rationality, God's authority is presented to the Corinthian as a plea that can be felt rather than simply a decree to be rationally understood. 

In this context of God's passionate appeal, Paul personally urges the Corinthians to be reconciled to God.   This word means to beseech or beg, and in this setting "there is warmth, and attractiveness, winsomeness about it."6  This verb is 1st person plural, demonstrating that all ambassadors for Christ are to make such an appeal.  In a moral climate such as the one found in Corinth, Paul recognized that the hearers of his message needed to "feel the truth" before they would begin to think about it. 

C. The role of the ambassador in postmodern times.

The challenge of the ambassador of Christ is to provide a "fresh" communication of eternal truths in the present culture.  Since the ambassador is not bound by the limitations of postmodern history and culture, they can use this "freedom" to their advantage.  They can agree with the postmodernist that human reason, for example, may be strongly influenced by one's historical context.  According to Bruce Benson, "There is a great difference between the idea that all human reason is permeated by contingency (or, historicity) and the idea that human reason is merely contingent and in no sense universally valid.  Christians can heartily endorse the postmodern recognition of the limitations of rationality (and the humility of spirit that recognition should entail) without concluding that there either is no truth or that we are incapable of knowing truth."7

As we have seen, God's Spirit wants to powerfully speaks through the ambassador in order to display God's eternal authority in present space and time.  And yet, it is the ambassador's responsibility to develop and utilize a model of communication that sensitively relates God's authority to the present culture.  In the next section we will attempt to develop such a model for postmodern culture.

1 The Greek word dunamis is also used by Paul in Romans 1:16 to show that God has now broken into time to reveal His eternal righteousness--that which was previously reserved for His final "shalom"--to Jews and Gentiles in the form of salvation.

2 Leon Morris, The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians:  An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Leon Morris, ed.(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 52.

3 Ibid., 13.

4 J.C. Pollock, in David Prior, The Message of 1Corinthians, (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 13.

5 See Prior, The Message of 1Corinthians, 11-12.

6 H. Schonweiss, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 3 (Grand Rapids, Mich: Regency Reference Library, 1986), 1087-1146.

7 Bruce Ellis Benson, "Postmodernism" (unpublished paper).

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