C. Baxter Kruger, Who Are We in Jesus Christ?
C. Baxter Kruger earned his PhD in 1989 from Kings College, University of Aberdeen, studying under James B. Torrance. He is president of Perichoresis, a non-profit ministry.
The Western world thinks that Jesus came to save us from the harsh God. But the Father is actually just like Jesus.
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JMF: The last time we got together, we talked a little bit about your book The Great Dance, but one thing I wanted to focus on this time is a lady that you quoted from C.S. Lewis called Mrs. Fidget. And you mentioned: “One of my favorite characters in C.S. Lewis’ writings is the lady by the name of Mrs. Fidget.”
This woman so characterizes not only somebody we all know, probably, but also ourselves in so many ways, that she’s a great character to talk about…. On page 78, for those who want to pull the book out and start reading:
I’m thinking of Mrs. Fidget [Lewis writes], who died a few months ago. It is really astonishing how her family have brightened up. Mrs. Fidget very often said that she lived for her family. And it was not untrue. Everybody in the neighbourhood knew it. “She lives for her family,” they said; “what a wife and mother!” She did all the washing; true, she did it badly, and they could have afforded to send it out to a laundry, and they frequently begged her not to do it. But she did. There was always a hot lunch for anyone who was at home and always a hot meal at night (even in midsummer). They implored her not to do this. They protested almost with tears in their eyes (and with truth) that they liked cold meals. It made no difference. She was living for her family.
For Mrs. Fidget, as she so often said, would “work her fingers to the bone” for her family. They couldn’t stop her. Nor could they, being decent people, quite sit still and watch her do it. They had to help. Indeed they were always having to help. That is, they did things for her to help her to do things for them which they didn’t want done.
And you say, the problem of Mrs. Fidget was not marriage, not relationships, not motherhood – the problem of Mrs. Fidget was the way she saw herself. Let’s talk about that.
CBK: ... Identity. I talk about it sometimes in terms of the “I Am NOTs” –believing “I am not special,” “I am not included,” “I am not good enough,” “I’m not worthy,” “I’m not important,” “I’m not beautiful,” “I’m not saved,” “I’m not reconciled,” “I’m not adopted.” We have those whispers within us. They ultimately have their origin in evil, where they come through people. We believe we’re not special, and then we have to find a way to become special. I believe I’m not important but I will find a way that I can become important – and that’s what Mrs. Fidget does.
I think she’s a perfect illustration of so much that goes on in our life. She chose an ideal of motherhood and that, if she could attain that ideal, then she would be special. She wanted it to look like she really cared about her family, but in the end, what she really cared about was she attaining her ideal of motherhood. Lewis is brilliant in how she sees the whole family is actually brightened up after the woman died because she was putting so much pressure on them to help her fulfill her idea of motherhood, which had nothing to do with real relationships at all – it wasn’t what her family wanted.
So it’s – I am not, I can be, if I can get this.. and then you can fill in the blank in how we take people and maybe even whole denominations, or nations – into our “I am not” and our “self-salvation” scheme. It can get really messy and lots of stuff can be poisoned.
JMF: Relationships is what the gospel is all about, not doing stuff, list of rules, all that sort of things that we like to impose on ourselves to help ourselves feel better… measuring… we like to measure how well we’re doing – we forget all about the fact we’re talking about relationships – whole purpose of life in the restoration that we have in Christ is for restored relationships.
CBK: Real relationships which means you encounter the other person in what they want, in what they care about is important to you, not just what you want them to care about but what they actually care about, where they are in their journey. That’s what the way Jesus met us in the incarnation. He’s come to become what we are to meet us where we actually are in our journey.
The Mrs. Fidget story helps us with another problem that comes out of this conversation which is the whole vexed discussion of universalism, because here you have a woman who actually IS special. She actually is loved – by the Father Son and Spirit – she is included. But since she doesn’t know it, and she doesn’t believe it, then she’s going to invent an alternative kingdom and demand that her children participate with her in her wrong-headed kingdom – which is going to poison them and eventually kill her, and destroys.
So is she included? Yes. Is she important? Yes. Is she adopted? Yes. Is she special? Yes. Does she know it? No, and because she doesn’t, she goes out to create an importance that she can see, which is an illusion, which brings poison into the equation.
Mrs. Fidget-ism can continue on for all eternity – theoretically speaking. It seems to me like this is what we all do. Sometimes I think of sin as looking dead at Jesus and saying: “Jesus you’re wrong about your Father, you’re wrong about me, wrong about the human race and about our being included. So Jesus, what I want you to do stop believing what you believe about the Father and the Holy Spirit and about who we are – change your mind, which is repentance, and I want you to believe in me and in my vision.” We do that with God, we do that with our husbands, our wives, our family, our friends, our churches. We are always imposing our agenda over the top of what’s real, that is present but we can’t see it – we can’t receive it yet. So Mrs. Fidget is multi-layered, as she’s used in that book; we can go in lots of different directions with it.
JMF: It reminds you what Jesus said when he’s talking about forgiveness, which is often taken as a condition for salvation, that if you will forgive your brother then God will forgive you, and if you have not forgiven your brother, God will not forgive you. But that’s really a statement about relationships, like you’re talking about.
CBK: How can you be forgiven and not try to forgive others – it’s like people ask me about universalism, about the sheep and the goats, and I’m like – hang on a minute here, people that ask about the sheep and the goats as if this is a huge issue are really telling you that they’re goats, because I don’t know any sheep that care about people being excluded or not included in that sense.
The sheep hear the voice of Jesus and they love it and the people who are forgiven by the Father they have their souls baptized with hope – they want everybody to experience this. And so the sheep wants all the goats to be included and to see it, to experience it. We just get it convoluted. Jesus has brought the Father’s forgiveness to us as we know it. He who is forgiven much, loves much. The one sees how much they have been loved and forgiven now has capacity for mercy and compassion that flows out of them. That’s the way I look at that passage.
JMF: A lot of people see God as angry at them or at least withholding any kind of love for them until they’ve measured up, until they’ve done enough good stuff. This idea conflicts with the God we find who’s revealed in Christ in the Scriptures. How does a person go about holding two totally conflicting views of God together?
CBK: The entire world – especially the Western world – has two different doctrines of God. One is Greek philosophy – that God who is distant, removed, totally detached, unapproachable, other-worldly, not interested, we’ve taken that into the world of legalism and add legalism to that detached… This God is watching us (as intrinsically bad) watching us and keeping tabs but he doesn’t really care about us, as much as we are keeping his rules – that’s built into the fabric of the fallen man and through Greek philosophy it spread itself across the whole world.
JMF: So the rules come first, he makes rules and they need somebody to keep them and so he made us.
CBK: And we’re just completely distanced. And he’s up there unapproachable. Then you discover in the face of Jesus the Father-Son relationship and the role and the place and the beauty of the Holy Spirit in that relationship and you realize that the incarnation is shouting to us that God is not unapproachable – he intends to be known and to share that Trinitarian life with us. That why he became human.
I snagged this book a minute ago from your library because of what Irenaeus says in the early church – he says: “Our Lord Jesus Christ who did through his transcendent love become what we are, that he might bring us to be, even what he is in himself.” One God is infinitely removed, unapproachable, not interested, excepting rules and regulations. The other God is: I’m coming to become what you are because I want you to share in what I am. So you’re going to get to be sons and daughters with me and my Father. You’re gonna get included in my anointing in the Holy Spirit. You’re gonna get to be a part of my relationship with all creation. So you’ve got two different Gods running in our minds and in our hearts from the very beginning in the West and most people don’t even think about that.
JMF: I’ve known a lot of people even combine those two in a sense of taking that false view of God as a distant uninterested or unapproachable God and actually project that onto the Father and Jesus is the good guy who fixes and patches things up and he keeps the Father in the background so that…
CBK: As long as we hang with Jesus we’re okay, but if he goes to the bathroom from the playground, we’re toast, because the Father really doesn’t like us. But Jesus twisted his arms in some way so he might get us in the back door, as it were, and that’s exactly what we’ve done. We’re taking Greek philosophy, and in some of the Christian tradition, we twisted the Trinity to fit that, and we don’t even know that’s what we’ve done.
At this moment in history I think there’s some untwisting that’s happening – starting with the figure of Karl Barth in the last century. And people like J.B. and T.F. Torrance and with Moltmann and Colin Gunton, and now Alan Torrance and Trevor Hart – these and lots and lots of people who are saying, ok, we want to participate in the untwisting, we want to divorce from Greek philosophy. We don’t want to participate in that darkness anymore. We want the Christian tradition that stands on its own merits and this is what we believe. And we’re willing to roll the dice to see where it comes out. If we’re thoroughly faithful to Jesus as the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, where is this going to come out?
We’ll find ourselves right back with the early church. I read that passage last night to a group of folks here in Los Angeles (a younger generation) and they said to me, “never heard that… in all my years in the church I never heard anyone talking…” I said, that’s the biggest picture. If you start off with this other model and this God, and you overlay Jesus coming on that, it’s all about sin, and it’s all about somebody’s getting punished and Jesus stands in our place, and by the way, we’re supposed to love his Father. The bigger picture is: the Father sends his Son because they have decided that we’re going to be given a place in their relationship. And Jesus comes to bring us to be what he is in himself. Not just to give us a gift (like he came to give us a new coffee cup) – what he came give us is himself, in his life with his Father and the Holy Spirit.
So you’re untwisting this legal stuff and you’re now seeing why the early church was born and why it went around the world – is because the message was not: God is holy, you’re a sinner, you failed, Jesus picked up the tab. The message is: The Father, Son, and Spirit set their love upon you from the foundation of the world, and Jesus has come and found you and he’s sharing himself and all he is and has with you. And in order to do that, he’s died and rose again and ascended.
JMF: Yeah, the way it comes across a lot of times is that Jesus comes to pay the penalty for our sins. So he pays the penalty, we’re absolved, we got a legal document, as it were, that says: ok you’re not guilty now.
CBK: That we can hold in God’s face.
JMF: Yeah, or just feel good about it: “Well, I got off the hook and I’m so glad and now I’m ok.” But then, we’ve got to start keeping the rules because the rules still are the most important thing. We got all of those past sins forgiven – but the rules are still there, we’ve got to keep them and now the Holy Spirit will come and he will help me keep these rules and if I don’t stop keeping them enough, then I’d actually get into the kingdom, where I’ll keep them perfectly. But still it’s all about the rules.
CBK: We keep moving the bar. The Holy Spirit comes to us to help us share in Jesus’ life. And what was Jesus’ life? He says, “I only do what I see my Father doing. The Father loves the Son, he shows him all things he himself is doing. I don’t have my own agenda. I’m not here to do just whatever I want. I want to participate in what the Father is doing.” So it’s relational. It’s relationships.
Jesus says, “I don’t call you slaves, because slaves don’t know what their master is doing. I’m calling you friends, brothers and sisters, because I’m showing you or disclosing to you everything that my Father who shows me everything he’s doing – he shares with me, because I want you to participate in our relationship – in our way of relating, in our way of living life in that relationship.”
Jesus didn’t come to give us new laws, he didn’t come to give us a fresh vision of God. He didn’t come to give us new steps to joy. The astonishing fact staring us in the face is what Irenaeus was saying in the early church – is that Jesus came to give us himself, and in giving us himself, he’s giving us his relation with his Father and his anointing with the Sprit and his relationship with all things throughout the cosmos. That’s who we are, and we are to work this out in concert with him in relationship with him. We would do way more than keep the law in the process.
JMF: We don’t need a law for friendship, do we? I mean, is there a friendship law? We’re able to be friends because we actually care about each other, we care about participating with each other and we care about being together in a way that’s productive. We adjust our wants and our desires because we care about each other. You don’t need a set of rules for that. If you wrote down a set of rules, you could make one. But to sit down and try to follow that in order to create a friendship, doesn’t work. You can look a friendship and say, hey these are things that happen in friendship. But it doesn’t work the other direction.
CBK: To me, Christianity is about (and this might sound somewhat cliché, but it’s beautifully simple) Christianity is about walking with Jesus. It’s about being interested in what he’s doing and what he wants, more than we are of what we want. Instead of me looking at Jesus saying, you’re wrong, you’re wrong, you’re wrong, you need to change and believe in me, we say to Jesus: I don’t want to see things the way that I see them anymore. I don’t want to see God the way that I see God. I don’t want to see people the way that I see people. I don’t want to see creation, I don’t want to see myself… I want to see God and people and creation – with your mind and in your faith and in your wisdom and clarity, Jesus. I want to participate in your way of seeing.
He says, come walk with me. Walk with me and I’ll help you see what’s really real and what’s really going on. That produces friendship. Because immediately when you get two or three people that are saying: I don’t know how to do this. But what we want is to participate in Jesus. Then there’s a point of connection that’s profoundly deep and then they become brothers in the practical ongoing and sisters in the practical ongoing way whereby we’re bound together – we care about them too, because we all care about Jesus, in sharing in him and not imposing our own ideas on the world or Jesus, the Father, Son and a denomination or whatever.
JMF: He actually did that first. His interest in us was selfless. He came, showed his interest in us by taking up our cause, becoming one of us and creating the room – the space for that relationship to happen.
CBK: This is where you will see, in the future, the unravelling of that whole notion of penal substitution, where Jesus supposedly goes to the cross to suffer the wrath of God that was intended for us. I just don’t see in the New Testament that Jesus suffered the wrath of God. I don’t see that he suffered the rejection and abandonment of the Holy Spirit. If you read the New Testament, you read the Gospels and you say, why did Jesus die? Then he tells you: “I’m going to Jerusalem, the Jews and the Gentiles are going to go and conspire together and they’re going to kill me, and I’m going to let them do it. On the third day I will rise again.”
If you see from the beginning of the Bible, the point here is the Lord is saying: “I want a relationship that is real with the human race so that in this relationship I can share with them the very life that I experience with the Father and the Holy Spirit.” Jesus is stepping into that and so he’s going to find a way to have a relationship with us as we really are in our brokenness. Otherwise he’s not accomplishing the dream – which is to share with us his Trinitarian life.
So, how is he going to do that? He’s going to do that by allowing himself to be crucified by the human race and he’s going to bear our scorn. He’s going to allow us to make him the scapegoat, and to pour our rage, our wrath, our anger on to him and he’s going to take it. He’s actually going to submit himself to our wrong-headed judgment and to our religion (which he totally disapproves of). He’s going to submit himself to it and he’s going to die in the arms of our bitterness. In doing so, he’s establishing a relationship with us in our very worst and he brought his Father and he brought the Holy Spirit with him.
That’s why adoption is not a doctrine. Adoption is what he is. Jesus has included the angry, vengeful, murderous, resentful human race in his relationship with his Father – that’s adoption. Not the pristine version that we can dress up on Sunday. Jesus has included all of us in our very worst in his relation with his Father and in his anointing in the Holy Spirit.
So that is where the whole thing gets untwisted and back in line with the early church’s vision of the Trinity and the incarnation. That is too beautiful for words. I mean, the Father, Son and Spirit deliberately submit themselves to our judgment, even though it’s bone-headed and completely backwards and upside down and wrong. But they do that in order to meet the real us as we are, to share their life with us. That’s the heart of the gospel.
So that’s what we are to do with other people. We’re to embrace them and meet them where they are and share the truth with them. I don’t mean that put ourselves in abusive situations as Jesus did. I think because of what he did, we can move forward. But I don’t mean that as a pattern of, “ok therefore I’m supposed to go, stir up trouble and let people just crucify me because that sound like a good way to meet Jesus or participate with Jesus.” I mean that we embrace people where they are, we accept them as they are. It’s not our position to judge them or to clean them up.
Our job is to meet them where they are and accept them in their brokenness and to tell them who they really are – which is back to the truth that will set Mrs. Fidget free… is “Yes, you are accepted just as you are. So you don’t need to invent this ideal motherhood and you don’t need to impose this vision of yours on your family. So you don’t need to destroy relations in your family because of your own need here.” You begin with “you’re included.” You begin with “I am acceptable,” “I am special” because Jesus came and found me.
JMF: So how do we look at the difference between believers and unbelievers?
CBK: Well, the first distinction is not that believers are in and unbelievers are out. Jesus has embraced the human race and indeed the entire cosmos in himself. He is the one in and through and by whom it was created. Now he’s stepped into it and he’s brought his relationship with the entire cosmos together in himself. He has given us a place in his relation with the Father and with the Holy Spirit. That’s who we are. That’s our identity. We don’t make that so. Whether we believe it or not believe it, doesn’t change the fact of who we really are in Jesus. He’s done this in beautiful and sovereign grace.
So now the question is: Where are we in our journey of understanding that, and that’s where the distinctions like – not inside, outside – but the distinction of believer and unbeliever become important. Because there clearly are people who are raising their hands saying, “Jesus I don’t want to see things the way I see them anymore. I’m still fumbling around and my life may not look any better on the outside than the person who says, ‘I don’t want anything to do with Jesus.’”
But there’s a difference in terms of orientation of what they’re doing. The best I’ve ever heard anybody saying in my travels is, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” I’ve never heard anybody saying, “Well, that’s the way it used to be until I got saved, or I got the Holy Ghost. Now I don’t even have to pray about my own belief” — we’re struggling.
Believers are people who know that Jesus is the answer. We just don’t know how? We don’t know what it really means yet. That’s where we grab each other’s hands and say, let’s walk with him. Unbelievers are people who are looking somewhere else to experience their salvation, but it doesn’t change the fact of who we really are and what’s happened — it changes our experience. Mrs. Fidget invented a legendary idea of motherhood and imposed it on the whole family, so much so that it killed the family, and when she finally died, they were relieved because they could be themselves.
So the distinction between unbelievers and believers is important as long as that doesn’t mean inside-outside. (That’s the way it’s been used many times in centuries is that, we are the true church, we’re the true faith system – you’re outside till you do it and jump through the hoops here; you’re not included.) The gospel message is that the Father’s Son has come and he has received us into his world. Whether we see it or not, this is what’s happened. Now, where are you in your journey to understand that between becoming a true unbeliever, towards a true believer. There’s way gray there. Lots of people want it to be black and white: “Here’s how you can tell. This is it.” Every time we draw a line in the sand, we hurt people and ourselves too.
JMF: Union and communion, is that a similar…
CBK: Union and communion is a great way of talking about the difference, because union is what is. Jesus has established us as joint heirs with himself. He has come and found a way to connect with us, to relate to us, and that’s who we are – who are people who belong and who are united with Jesus Christ.
Communion is as we begin to see this more and more, saying, “Jesus, I want to walk with you. I see something good here about me and you. I don’t know what it means, but I want to walk with this. And oh, by the way, there’s some other people; we’re going to walk with them.” That opens the door for deeper and deeper communion, which is where we are participating actively on our own rather than blindly. Even though when I say it that way, it still sounds sort of Christian arrogance because there’s so much of Jesus going on in the world whether people see it or not.
JMF: That’s how we can understand the fact that sometimes unbelievers seem to be better friends, more loyal, more faithful, kinder than members.
CBK: You will see the love of the Father, Son and Spirit as it’s manifesting itself in people out here who are “unbelievers,” you either see that as the love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, or you find yourself in a position where I’m now have to have this Christian love and it has to be vastly superior to the way this father loves his children. Or, I don’t really have it.
The real truth is that, the Father, Son, Spirit’s love is being shared with everyone on the planet and it’s trying to come to expression through our unbelief, and wrong belief and through our hopefully-sometimes-getting-close-to-being-real belief. It’s expressing itself. Once you see that, then you can begin to see what’s going on inside of people, because Jesus is that big. We’re not going to meet Jesus face to face and scratch our heads, and say: “Jesus, you need to forgive me because I really, really over-estimated you. I just didn’t realize how small you are. I thought you were bigger.” That’s not what’s going to happen.
When we meet Jesus, we’re going to say: “Man, I’ve grossly under-estimated your place and role in the whole scheme of things. You are the one who knows what love is. You are the one who shares your love and your burdens and you for care with the whole human race and I see it everywhere trying to come to expression, but we’re all broken and blind, and sadly, we all keep poisoning it, but you keep sharing it and you keep working with us and we’re going to get to see who we really are in terms of Jesus.”
I don’t think anybody right now would qualify as a believer. Jesus is the true believer. The rest of us are: “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” Then you got people who are saying: “Oh I don’t want anything to do with this just yet.” Most of the time you got that, is because of problems that has happened through churches, of abuse and things like that, through parents... Most of the time, when I talk to people about Jesus being the Father’s Son who has come to share his life with us – people don’t have a real problem with that, except religious people who want this hard line in the sand or in the dirt between those that are outside, those that are inside. It’s a huge question.
JMF: Sure, if Jesus were not our life and were not our righteousness, we won’t have any anyway. Same with belief, if he were not the believer, what would we have?
CBK: We wouldn’t. And if Jesus (Calvin says this on his commentary on John 1:4) “In him was life and life was the light of men…” Calvin says that if Jesus were to detach himself from the human race, the entire human race would disappear.
JMF: So would everything.
CBK: Everything would be gone.
JMF: Everything is upheld by him.
CBK: That’s the way we started: where are these people who are creations of Jesus, who are included in Jesus’ faith and courage and in his parrhesia and his life and his anointing in the Spirit – where are these people in their journey to understand that? Where are they? Well, they are all unbelievers and believers in all kinds of things. The Holy Spirit is someone that straightens out this mess, and helps us come to know who we really are by coming to know who Jesus is. That’s the light.The light is always shining: Jesus is the one who’s done this. This is who he is. And as we come to see him and know him, we’re coming to know more about who we are. Then that changes the way we are relating to one another, like it would change the way Mrs. Fidget related to her family. If she knew who she was and how she was loved, then this whole world of illusion, the pressure to create this and maintain this world, to give her some sense of identity, goes away. So now she’s in a whole different place with her kids, she can actually care about them, in what they want. If it is cold meals that they want, then she’d derive great joy in giving them cold meals. And if they don’t think she could do the laundry they could ship it away. And they won’t get suck in to her neediness and her world of brokenness and trying to find some semblance of meaning. She’s free then to give her life for them — and that’s the way the kingdom works. It’s beautiful. The simplicity of it but then, man, you start pulling on that thread, the whole world comes undone