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This is my understanding of certain theological, and other specialized, words - so when I use these words, this is what I mean.

Theology: is literally the study of God, but is used to refer to a broad rage of religious, and philosophical studies.  

Trinity: a word made up by Christian theologians to describe the nature of God as it is revealed in the Bible. Christians are more accurately called Trinitarians, not Monotheists. God is not in God’s true nature a singular being – a monad. God is made up of three distinct persons (for lack of a better word) – a triad. It is of course impossible for us to understand the infinite nature of God, but the important point is this. ` God is in God’s true nature a being in relationship. It is only in this way that it can be said “God is Love” (1 John 4:8); that is his true nature is love, it’s not just something he created and does. (I must thank G.K. Chesterton for my understanding of Trinitarian theology.) 

The Gospel: the word gospel means important news and generally good news. In general all of the promises made by God in the Bible are gospel. More specifically, the gospel is the story concerning Jesus of Nazareth. It is the good news that the promised Kingdom of God has arrived, with its blessings and salvation in Jesus, its Anointed King (Matt 4:23; Luke 2:11, 4:18-19, 43). Jesus is the promised, long awaited Messiah-King/Priest/Prophet who has conquered evil and death through his life, death and resurrection – making it possible for him to redeem the world.

Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, . . . he was buried, . . . he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and . . . he appeared to [Peter], and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles . . . . (1 Cor. 15:3-7)

Jesus the Messiah made our redemption possible by his life and death, and he conquered death – becoming the first fruit of the new creation – by his resurrection. This was an historical event that actually happened and can be investigated, thus the significance of mentioning the multiple witnesses in the above passage. At present we wait as the “. . . gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come (Matt 24:14).” Jesus will then return and justice will be established, creation will be renewed, and God's people will receive the full blessing of his Kingdom.

Jesus' disciples took this good news and proclaimed it after his ascension. They called it the gospel of Jesus, because he is the Messiah and King of the Kingdom. He inaugurated the Kingdom, he was the fulfillment of prophecy, and he brought the blessings of the Kingdom especially the forgiveness of sins leading to salvation and the indwelling of the Spirit. He is the central character of this good news, his actions, not ours, are the news. If he did not save us from our sins we would all fall under the judgment of God – the justice which his Kingdom brings – but because he offers reconciliation to his enemies the coming of God’s Kingdom is good, not bad, news. If we were found to still be in our sins God’s Kingdom would be a terrible thing.

So in short the good news is the story of God’s mission of reclaiming and restoring his creation through Jesus, which begins in Genesis three and ends in Revelations 22.

Atonement: this is the dominant metaphor used by the Bible to tell us how our justification is made possible. To atone means to satisfy a requirement (expiate). For example, if my friend wrecks my car, either they have to pay for it, or I may forgive them releasing them of their obligation to pay for the repairs, but then I must pay for the repairs. Humans have broken the world and ourselves. If God is to forgive us, he has to bear the cost of repairing the world himself. If justice is to be served, he must bear it. Jesus died as an atoning sacrifice – bearing the cost of our sin. The consequence of sin is death; Jesus took our death upon himself. (John 1:29; Rom 3:25; Heb 2:17, 1 John 2:2, 4:10)

Reconciliation: is to restore a relationship to harmony. We are all born at odds with God and each other (see original sin). We must be reconciled with God first and with each other second. We are able to be reconciled with God and others through the work of Jesus Christ (Rom 5:10; 2 Cor 5:18; Eph 2:11-17; Col 1:15-22).

Justification: this is a legal concept. To justify an act, or be justified, is to show or prove that one is right. Justification in the biblical sense is the declaration by God, the judge, that one is right and thus good, specifically in relation to the law. A Christian is declared to be right and good (righteous) by God, not because they have actually kept the law, but because they are covered/clothed by Jesus’ goodness. When God looks at the Christian, he sees Christ. (Gal 2:15-16, Eph 2:8-9)

Ransom: to pay a price to rescue someone from imprisonment/enslavement. This is one of the ways in which the Bible describes the act of God saving us (Mark 10:45).

Redemption: this is another way in which the Bible describes the process of God saving us. Redemption is sort of a combination of atonement and ransom. It is to pay the required price/penalty to receive something back – in this case humans – so that humans can be fixed/restored to their original pristine condition. 

Grace: is a divine property, which is showered upon humans despite their having done nothing to merit the gift. It is similar to love, but not identical. It is a quality which compels God to act on our behalf to rescue and bless us, and it binds God in faithfulness to us. Grace is not a substance or a fuel which powers, or boosts our ability to do good deeds, or assist us in our efforts to please God. It is a power which transforms our being, making us pleasing to God.

Salvation: is the fixing of – the making good – the broken creature so that it may not die. It is not merely going to heaven when one dies. It is the restoring of shalom/harmony and righteousness. 

Christ/Messiah: literally an anointed one. In the Old Testament priests and kings were anointed to show that they were chosen for their task. The OT promises that God will anoint a king to restore his Kingdom. 

Kingdom of God: is the perfect/shalom rule of God. God’s Kingdom has manifested itself in various forms, Eden and Israel are two examples – Eden is, if not a perfect, a near perfect manifestation, Israel not so much. At present God’s Kingdom is represented by the Church, which acts as an embassy, with Christians being ambassadors, of the Kingdom (2 Cor 5:12). This metaphor tells us much about the nature of this Kingdom’s present form. It is peaceful, non-aggressive, and uses diplomacy to persuade, not force or coercion. This Kingdom at present seeks reconciliation with its enemies. At present God’s rule on Earth is within the hearts of his followers; it may be described as spiritual. It is represented by physical people, who make up the Church, but not a temporal government, or a specific institution. It is not specific to a particular nation, or ethnic people group; it has no borders. At present, God’s people live amongst the nations. They have the responsibility of proclaiming the Gospel, God’s plan to rescue and restore his creation – they represent the offer of reconciliation, having been reconciled themselves. In this they act as a prophetic people, a sign, giving the world a foretaste of the Kingdom that is to come one day in its full glory and completeness. The kingdom will come in force to drive all evil from the world, justice will be served, all will be judged, creation will be restored and God’s perfect/shalom reign will be physically manifested on this earth in totality.

In the meantime God still operates through the kingdoms of this world, and Christians can still participate in the kingdoms of this world, to bring general blessings (common grace), maintain a sense of order and peace, protect human rights, and administering a very limited sense of justice. These are the two kingdoms of the theology of the Two Kingdoms; the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of men. No matter how good, just, peaceful, and wonderful a temporal kingdom is, it must never be confused with the holy Kingdom of God. And, when we take part in helping to create a good society, we are simply performing an act of love towards our neighbors, not building the Kingdom of God. As Christians there is a blurring of our participation in the two Kingdoms and it is not always easy to distinguish between our participation in one or the other. In some ways the distinction can seemed forced, but it is still helpful in a variety of ways. 

Evangelism: proclaiming the Gospel. As I’ve said, the Gospel concerns the inauguration, expansion and ultimate victory of God’s Kingdom on this earth, bringing the blessings that come with it, through the work of Jesus its King. Therefore, we as ambassadors of that kingdom (2 Cor 5:12) declare this message to be reality through our words and our actions. We tell the story (that’s really important, we can’t proclaim the good news without telling the story), and our lives are evidence that that story is true – in the same way that Jesus claimed the healing he brought was evidence of the fact that he was the Messiah (Matt 11:2-5). This doesn’t mean our good deeds are the Gospel, it means the work Jesus does in us and through us is evidence that Kingdom of God is here. When God’s Kingdom is actually present there will be an effect. The proclamation of the good news concerning Jesus and his Kingdom is evangelism even if it does not result in any conversions.

Shalom: is complete peace, harmony and balance in creation. Peace in this sense is not merely the absence of violence it is an active prosperity. 

Sanctification: is to be made holy, which means to be set apart for a special purpose or task. Christians, including me, use the word to identify the temporal process by which a person is eventually cleansed from all sin and corruption of the mind and body.

Righteousness: is right standing before God. It is to be good and whole.

Sin: is the failure to do and be that which one was created to be. It is not merely the violation of rules and regulations. It is the breaking of creation’s shalom/harmony. The natural consequence of this brokenness is death. 

Original Sin: this is not the first sin. This is the state in which we are all born, even before we commit an act of sin we are corrupted by. We are born in discord. This is our state of being, our nature. We are not who we were intended to be. We are not in harmony with God. We are self-focused, self-centered, selfish beings. We are not God-focused, we are not loving of God and others. This does not mean we are incapable of doing good deeds, or that we have no goodness in us. This does not mean God even holds us responsible for committing any particular sin at the time of our birth. We still have goodness within us, but we are holistically infected with sin. It is the death that has corrupted us. Therefore we sin because we are born with the desire to sin. (Rom 5:12; 1 Cor 15:22) 

Free will: is the ability to make moral choices and do that which we choose. We all have free will, even Calvinists believe this. The problem is that our free will is irrelevant. We have the ability to make choices and do that which we choose, but we will always choose to do the thing we most desire to do. We are motivated by our desires. Our will (volition, ability to choose) does not operate independently from our desires. So we will always do what is in our nature to do – a lion kills, a sheep eats grass, a duck mates for life, elks are polygamous. Humans have a corrupted nature as a result of the sin committed by Adam and Eve (see Original Sin). We as their children have inherited their corrupted nature and our desires our corrupt (Eph 2:3). The Bible tells us that the person who has yet to be reconciled with God (being unredeemed, not yet spiritually reborn/restored) is a slave to sin (Rom 6). This means that even though we have a free will we cannot live up to God’s standard of perfection, because our natures desire sin. When we are redeemed we are given a new nature – our desires are changed. The process of sanctification is not the process of strengthening our will power, but the process of our desires changing. 

Law: is all those things commanded by God. Jesus summarized God’s commands when he said that the greatest commandment is to “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ . . . And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments (Matt 22:37-40).” Fulfillment of the law is not simply a matter of deeds performed, or abstained from, but love, which is a matter of motivation. The standard to which God holds us is perfection (Matt 5:48).

The Great Commandment (Matt 22:37-40): is to Love God and others. This is not the unique mission of Christians but of all creation; therefore Christian love of neighbor in and of itself is not ‘missional’. It is an obligation which everyone in this world, including Christians, has. It is good to love one’s neighbor, and we can take part in any activity with anyone, not just Christians, that seeks to love one’s neighbor. Now, love of neighbor is a value of the Kingdom of God, so when Christians actually love their neighbors it is a taste of God’s Kingdom. Therefore, it does relate to our mission to proclaim the good news concerning Jesus and his Kingdom. The point is, we aren’t the only ones who are trying to love their neighbors and love of neighbor is not the unique mission we have been give. We need to proclaim the good news, Jesus’ story, not just do good deeds of love.

Self-Righteousness: is the belief/attitude (conscious or subconscious) that I can be good/moral/right independent of/without God. This can take two forms. Religious – I can please God and win his acceptance by fulfilling his commands through the exercise of my will-- at most I just need a little help from God-- still I achieve my own right standing before God. Non-religious – God’s existence and commands are irrelevant, I am capable of reaching a standard I decide is good through the exercise of my own will. Self-righteousness is the desire to put oneself on equal footing with God, or say God doesn’t even matter, claiming some sort of autonomy and independence and thus credit for one’s own goodness. This is the first and foundational sin.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 1:1-3)

The accusation is that God does not want us to become like him, but if we disobey him we can actually become like him.

Moralism: in general is the belief that every religions fundamental purpose is to transform us into moral beings here on earth – giving us tools to accomplish this – and in the end all religions have pretty much the same moral code. It starts with the fundamental idea that we are all basically good and freely capable of fulfilling the said moral code. Specific to Christianity it is the attitude (though rarely stated) that Christianity is fundamentally a tool which helps us become the good (self-righteous) people we want to be. See blog post - What's So Bad About Moralism.

Missional: to be missional is literally to take part in the mission of God to reclaim and restore his creation. The Church has been given the task to . . . “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you (Matt 28:19-20). This means in part making disciples by proclaiming the Gospel. However, the term missional is used by most to mean methods which are in contrast to ‘attractional’ methods. These people contrast missional churches and ministries with attractional churches and ministries. And, from what I gather this means, generally the practice of going out to ones surrounding community and doing mainly service-oriented projects, but can also mean having a place which does not look like a traditional church building were one does things that one feels non-Christians might be interested in – arts, entertainment, hospitality, service, a store. This is contrasted with churches that have a more traditional church building to which they try to attract people. The contrast is supposedly between going to people versus waiting for people to come. Whenever I use the term ‘missional’ (in single quotes) in my blog, it is this second explanation that I mean. 

Emerging Church: is an extremely loose term which can refer to a wide variety of churches. The movement is diverse. It encompasses different denominations, beliefs, styles, ages, ethnicities. The one thing they all have in common is that they are questioning the way evangelicals have been doing things the last few years, or so. What is emerging is the emerging church. It's not the same thing as the emergent church, which is an actual organization.  


More to Come