Notes from “In the Beginning” by Tim Keller

Preached by Tim Keller January 5 2014

Passage is the Prologue of the Gospel of John

It begins with a claim

  1. The word is personal
  2. The word is divine
  3. This person was never created
  4. the source of all life
  5. That this is Jesus Christ

What is really significant is the word “word”: Logos

John uses a word with a lot of cultural, linguistic freight and we need to understand the background. The Greek philosophers saw balance, harmony and order in nature and they posited that there was a spiritual harmony behind this order and that was the Logos.

Now he turns to Luc Ferry’s Brief History of Though

If we want to form a simple idea of what was meant by kosmos, we must imagine the whole of the universe as if it were both ordered and animate. For the Stoics, the structure of the world – the cosmic order – is not merely magnificent, it is also comparable to a living being. The material world, the entire universe, fundamentally resembles a gigantic animal, of which each element – each organ – is conceived and adapted to the harmonious functioning of the whole. Each part, each member of this immense body , is perfectly in place and functions impeccably (although disasters do occur, they do not last for long, and order is soon restored) in the most literal sense: without fault, and in harmony with the other parts. And it is this that theoria helps us to unravel and understand.

In English, the term cosmos has resulted in, among other words, ‘cosmetic’. Originally, this science of the body beautiful related to justness of proportions, then to the art of make-up, which sets off that which is ‘well-made’ and, if necessary, conceals that which is less so. It is this order, or cosmos, this ordained structure of the universe in its entirety that the Greeks named ‘divine’ (theion), and not – as with the Jews and Christians – a Being apart from or external to the universe, existing prior to and responsible for the act of its creation.

It is this divinity, therefore (nothing to do with a personal Godhead), inextricably caught up with the natural order of things, that the Stoics invite us to contemplate (theorein), for example, by the study of sciences such as physics, astronomy or biology, which show the universe in its entirety to be ‘well-made’: from the regular movement of the planets down to the tiniest organisms. We can therefore say that the structure of the universe is not merely ‘divine’ and perfect of itself, but also ‘rational’, consonant with what the Greeks termed the Logos (from which we derive ‘logic’ and ‘logical’), which exactly describes this admirable order of things. Which is why our human reason is capable of understanding and fathoming reality, through the exercise of theoria, as a biologist comes to comprehend the function of the organs of a living creature he dissects.

Ferry, Luc (2011-12-27). A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living (p. 21). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Keller then uses an illustration of having to use space heaters in his apartment. The instructions to use the space heater are the logos of the space heater.

The Greeks said that the universe has a logos and our lives must be in alignment with the logos if we want our lives to go well. Figure out the logos and align with it.

But people couldn’t agree on what it was

  • Stoics believed that you should just accept whatever happens in nature. Accept everything, stiff upper lip. That’s one way to have a happy life.
  • Epicureans said “find what makes you happy and do it.

John’s prologue is an earthquake in history. The logos isn’t an abstraction or a list of rules but that logos is a person not a principle.

Firstly, and most fundamentally: the Logos, which as we as have seen for the Stoics merged with the impersonal , harmonious and divine structure of the cosmos as a whole, came to be identified for Christians with a single and unique personality, that of Christ. To the horror of the Greeks, the new believers maintained that the Logos – in other words the divine principle – was in no sense identical with the harmonious order of the world, but was incarnated in one outstanding individual, namely Christ.

Perhaps this distinction leaves you stone cold. After all, what does it matter – for us, today – that the Logos (for the Stoics a ‘logical’ ordering of the world) came to mean Christ as far as Christians were concerned? I might reply that today there exist more than a thousand million Christians – and that for this reason alone, to understand what drives them, their motives, the content and meaning of their faith, is not absurd for anyone with a modicum of interest in their fellow men. But this answer would be inadequate. For what is at stake in this seemingly abstract debate as to where the divine principle resides – whether in the structure of the universe or in the personality of one exceptional man – is no less than the transition from an anonymous and blind doctrine of salvation to one that promises not only that we shall be saved by one person, Christ, but that we shall be saved as individuals in our own right: for what we are, and as we are.

This ‘personalising’ of salvation allows us firstly to comprehend – by means of a concrete example – how mankind can pass from one vision of the world to another: how a new response to reality comes to prevail over an older response because it ‘adds’ something: a greater power of conviction, but also considerable advantages over what had preceded it. But there is more: by resting its case upon a definition of the human person and an unprecedented idea of love, Christianity was to have an incalculable effect upon the history of ideas. To give one example, it is quite clear that, in this Christian re-evaluation of the human person, of the individual as such, the philosophy of human rights to which we subscribe today would never have established itself. It is essential therefore that we have a more or less accurate idea of the chain of reasoning which led Christianity to break so radically with the Stoic past. And to have such an understanding, we must first grasp that in the vernacular translations of the Gospels which narrate the life of Jesus, the term Logos – borrowed directly from the Stoics – is translated by ‘word’. For Greek thought in general, and for Stoicism in particular, the idea that the Logos could designate anything other than the rational (therefore true, therefore beautiful) order of the universe was unthinkable. In their eyes, to claim that a mere mortal could constitute the Logos, or ‘the word incarnate’, as the Gospels express it, was insanity. It was to assign the attribute of divinity to a mere human being, whereas the divine, as you will recall, is interchangeable with the universal cosmic order, and can in no sense be identified with a single puny individual, whatever his credentials.

Ferry, Luc (2011-12-27). A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living (pp. 60-61). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

 If you believe that the meaning of life, the reason for life is an abstract principle, you have to be smart or scientific or strong or brilliant or self-controlled, how elitist is that! There is a meaning to life to do so you need to have a relationship with a person. It changed human thought but swept the old Roman empire. Christianity will always have a higher regard for persons.

Rejection of this claim

In spite of all that there has been wide spread rejection of this claim (John 1:5-11)

To understand the rejection of one verse 5, is says “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it” but other translations say “the darkness has not understood it” or “comprehendith it not”. Why the difference?

The Greek word John uses here is deliberately ambiguous. “This is masterpiece of planned ambiguity” because the same word can mean “overcome” or “understand”

Think of the word “master”, it might mean “overpower it” but it might also mean “to figure it out”. What this means is that there are two different ways at least of rejecting Jesus Christ:

1. To be overtly hostile

There are lots of people who are hostile to the idea that there is absolute truth.

Christian Smith, sociologist has studied the spiritual lives of young people in America. By surveying thousands of young adults about their moral views. Their moral views have 3 characteristics.

1. They have very strong moral feelings. Very much against injustice, violation of rights, exploitation of the poor, etc.

2. They are moral relativists. They will repeated say that no one has the right to say what is right or wrong for someone else. There are two aspects to this moral relativism.

a. Morality is person specific, you don’t have the right to choose for another.

b. Morality is culturally relative: every culture has the right to decide what is right for them.

3. They believe that morality is self-evident.

Conclusions? This is incredibly incoherent.

What about a country that doesn’t allow women to have a driver’s license. They will say “it’s wrong” but are you saying your culture can tell their culture what to do? Crickets. They have absolutely no basis for a program of justice.

These three views are not only incoherent but also inconsistent. Even though they have these strong feelings they are very consumeristic and selfish on how they spend money on themselves.

So then we decide “there is absolute truth” and “we’re going to work very hard to bring our lives in alignment with that” etc. but this then leads to oppression.

1. It leads to oppression of myself. You can try to live up to it but fail and it will crush you

2. It leads to oppression of others: Maybe you are an elite person who can live up to it but then you oppress those who can’t. You become a self-righteous bigot.

That’s not what Jesus was about.

To say there is no logos is relativism. To apply an impersonal logos is moralism

2. to not understand him

Jesus did strange things and the Jews didn’t understand him. The impersonal logos (the law) made them moralists. He’s not about relativism. Moralism is also not to comprehend him, not to understand what he is about.

Who are “his own” today? The church. To what degree do we not get Jesus? To what degree do we not comprehend him and fall into moralism and not understand the gospel but become vehicles of oppression?

One way of rejecting this claim: is relativism

the other way is to reject this claim is moralism. Our culture has rejected moralism

If you grew up in the USA during the cold war Communists were our enemy. They didn’t believe in God so religious people where the good people and the atheists were the bad people.

People after the cold war, who are trying to blow us up now? Religious people who claim to have the truth. Religious fundamentalists are the dangerous, evil people.

Is there a way beyond either relativism or moralism? It is the Gospel.

Last 3 verses of the passage.

Not everyone is a child of God, it has to be received.

In one sense we are all children of God from Acts 17 “we are his offspring” just like Henry Ford is the father of the model T. The Bible, in general, does not say that God is your father because you’ve been born. Because it highlights that fatherhood and sonship is about relationship. (I would say we are estranged children of God, pvk)

If you are an employee your relationship with your boss is based on your performance and on the cost-benefit analysis your boss has towards you. If you step out of line too often the relationship will be severed.

But if you are a good father the waywardness of a child the father’s heart is MORE engaged, intensified. The relationship is not based on performance but a covenant relationship based on unconditional faithfulness and commitment.

What does that mean? If you don’t have an appointment with the president of the USA and you try to see him you’ll be stopped. If you run toward him you’ll be shot. But if you are his child, you don’t need an appointment and you can run to him. You don’t have to be worth the price of his time. Is it possible to have a relationship like that with the God of the universe?

The word became flesh and tabernacled among us. What was the tabernacle/temple? All around the world there’s always been temples because all human beings instinctively sense that if there is a god there’s a gap. God is great and we’re small. God is perfect and we’re flawed. We needed a temple to bridge the gap. But now we’re told that Jesus becomes the temple. He’s the ultimate priest and he gets rid of the need for temples and we can become children by grace.

We can’t live without absolutes but we can’t live with oppressive absolutes, we need a non-oppressive absolute.

Here it is: a man dying on the cross for your sins. A man of strength becoming week for your sake. A man with life losing his life becoming the ultimate sacrifice.

If you see a man dying for his enemies that can’t make you into an oppressor.

  • I’m saved by grace, that won’t crush me on the inside.
  • If I am saved by grace I don’t deserve it so that can’t make me an oppressor to others.

Haven’t Christians been oppressors in the past? Yes, but only if they didn’t comprehend this.

The early Christians invented orphanages, hospitals, they stopped the infanticide of girls. Now get a love relationship based on grace and go out and continue to change history until he comes again.

About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
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4 Responses to Notes from “In the Beginning” by Tim Keller

  1. Pingback: Sabbath Keeping, the Most Gloriously and Arbitrary Commandment | Leadingchurch.com

  2. Kerry G says:

    We can’t live without absolutes but we can’t live without oppressive absolutes, we need a non-oppressive absolute.

    I think it was meant to read:

    We can’t live without absolutes but we can’t live with oppressive absolutes, we need a non-oppressive absolute.

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