The Savannahs of Heaven
Theology - Life in the Regeneration
Written by Douglas Wilson
Sunday, July 10, 2011
In John 8, Jesus has a remarkable interaction with the Jewish
leaders, an interaction that teaches us what it means to be an
Jesus has collided with these men, and they do not grasp what He is
talking about. They do not grasp it because they do not know the Father.
They do not get it because He is from above and they are from below --
and unless you are born from above, you cannot see the kingdom. It is
clear in this interaction that for Jesus being from below does not mean
being a creature, but rather means being the kind of person who dies in
his sins. He says they will die in their sin (v. 21). He says they are
from below (v. 23). He says again they will die in their sin (v. 24).
This is moral blindness and stupidity; it is not creaturely limitation.
The thing that had them confused is that their papers were all in
They were born of Abraham, and Abraham was from above, darn it.
Abraham was from God, Moses was from God, the Torah was from God, and
what could Jesus be talking about? They had taken a heavenly gift,
dragged it down below where they were, and then boasted in it.
Now the thing that we Christians have to learn, before shaking our
heads over these Jewish leaders, is that there is absolutely no reason
to think that sinful men cannot do exactly the same thing with every
subsequent gift from above -- including the very greatest gifts of the
Incarnation, the crucifixion, and the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost.
This includes the gifts and sacraments of the new covenant. You say you
are baptized in water and the Spirit? That and five bucks, says the
prophet, will get you a tall mocha frappacino.
This may sound disrespectful to some, but it only sounds
disrespectful to those who have dragged these things down in order to
anchor them to earth, to turn them into something "from below." It only
sounds disrespectful to the same kind of person who would have been
offended at God's ability to make sons of Abraham out of rocks.
The sacramental history of the Church has consisted of large numbers
of people making the same mistake that the Jews here had made. Something
is given that is wild and heavenly, and we expend all our energies to
make it domesticated and earthly. We take the lion of the tribe of Judah
-- from the savannahs of Heaven -- and turn it into a tabby cat to keep
the bishop's chair warm for him.
And so God raised up heavenly deliverance, a deliverance we call the
Reformation. God always raises up such deliverances. We don't ever
deserve it, but He always does this. He is the Savior God.
But the same thing happened again. The five solas, heavenly
messages of liberation and good news, got turned into a five-fold
collection of shibbolethian passwords. And so over the subsequent
centuries, God gave a series of revivals and stirrings that formed the
broad outlines of what it means to be a modern evangelical. You must be
born again. This was all good, and it too was from heaven. It was not
from earth, and so what must earthly men labor to do with this latest
heavenly truth? Right -- in order to keep the Spirit at bay, they sought
to turn "you must be born again" into a subjectivist mantra.
In short, there is absolutely nothing that God can give us that we
are incapable of turning into an idol. This is precisely why we have to
be born again, which is not the same thing as talking about being born
again. It turns out that there are a lot of things that we can add to
our five bucks in order to get that frappacino.
If there is a deeper right than being right, and there always is, the
question we need to answer is "how deep does it go?" One answer of
course is that "the right" goes all the way down, but of more interest
to us as sinners is how deep do we have to go before we get to the
regenerative right? How far down do we have to go before we can stop?
Drill past thelogy; drill past liturgy; drill past the sacraments; drill
past all that stuff. As the song Denomination Blues puts it, "You gotta
have Jesus, I tell you that's all."
And for those who might want to get huffy about this, thinking that I
have somehow disparaged theology, liturgy, sacraments, and all the rest
of their mummeries, I would reply with a Pauline "may it never be." You
have to drill through those things to know what they even are.
Otherwise you are just stuck in a dark tunnel, more's the pity.