A post from the Jesus Collective Theology Circle

Contributions by Josh Patterson (Maryland, United States), Levy Soko (Lusaka, Zambia), Meghan Good (Arizona, United States), and Greg Boyd (Minnesota, United States)

When John pens this memorable opening to his gospel, he isn’t picturing God the Father sitting alone in the precreation darkness with an unpublished book resting on the nightstand.

The Word at God’s side from the start is a person. He is God’s unveiling, God’s self-expression, God’s giving of self to be known. He was always there, the song God was singing before there were even ears to hear it.

Everything came into being through the Word and without the Word nothing came into being.

In the story of Genesis 1, God creates by speaking. All this world-making speech, it’s now revealed, was just an echo of the first, all-encompassing Word. It was all made through him. It was all made for him (Colossians 1:16). He was there dancing when the mountains were formed, shouting Yes! Yes! That’s good! That’s very good!” when human beings were born.

The Word has many things to say to his new creation and shows up with the evening breeze for intimate conversation. But humans become the first to try to hide from the Word of Life. Now on the run, they have trouble hearing the sound of the Word across the increased distance. Other voices begin to seem louder, more urgent and compelling. But the Word of God is a talker, so he keeps right on trying.

The Word accommodates, as it were — speaks in the local dialect. And occasionally someone picks up the sound. A man named Abraham catches the summons and decides to follow it for a while. He teaches his family what he has heard and they start to listen as well. And from there on out, there are always at least a few tuning in the Word’s direction. Those with especially open ears come to be called the prophets. The prophets take what they make out of God’s character and desires and use their own voices to amplify it as much as possible. A few listen. Most do not.

The Word became flesh and made his home among us.

Eventually the Word has enough of go-betweens. And the Word, the defining self-expression of God, decides to come. The Word becomes flesh, with a human voice-box and the accent of Galilee. He comes to his own, the things he has made of dust and his own breath. He comes for a real heart-to-heart conversation.

The author of Hebrews describes it like this: In the past, God spoke through the prophets to our ancestors in many times and many ways. In these final days, though, he spoke to us through a Son” (Hebrews 1:1 – 2).

The Word, it seems, has always been speaking. But there is a bright line between then and now. In the past it was speech from a distance, subject to signal interference. In the past, it was mediated speech, subject to the interpretative capacities of each messenger. In the past it was abstract speech, subject to limits of imagination and of memory.

But now — now it’s up close and personal speech. The Word is standing so close you can literally read his lips. Now it is unmediated speech. Love it or hate it, the Word fully owns his own metaphors and silences. Now it is incarnated speech. Every spoken truth is fully anchored in a concrete, living body.

Grace and truth came into being through Jesus Christ.

The Word says, You’ve heard it was said … But I say to you …” In other words, You’ve received many past messages from other people speaking for God. But I’m giving you the skinny on what God really meant.” The Word-in-flesh claims authority to explain the truest meaning of every word previously spoken. He is the one and only divinely authorized interpreter.

Some words he amplifies: Love your God with heart and mind and soul and strength.”

Some words he overturns: Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.”

Some words he radicalizes: You must not pledge at all.”

But the Word goes even further than this. He claims all previous words were really about him. He says, If you believed Moses, you would believe me, because Moses wrote about me” (John 5:46). He himself is the only plotline there has ever been. Every word ever written was an arrow pointing straight to him.

He says to those who take the authority of past words most seriously, Examine the scriptures, since you think that in them you have eternal life. They also testify about me, yet you don’t want to come to me so you can have life” (John 5:39 – 40).

The salvation religious thinkers are seeking in the holy text is actually held by the Living Word to whom these texts were meant to witness. Any scripture that’s interpreted in a way that leads in some other direction than him hasn’t yet been properly heard. All scripture is inspired and authoritative for its God-intended purpose of drawing all people to him.

What came into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.

Before the Word’s coming, we could only view God in the dark. The world as he knew it was covered by shadows. Even the sharpest eyes among us could only discern the barest forms. But the Word came, and there was Light — as in the first day of creation. And finally we’re able to see God and the world as they really are.

As it turns out, some things are very much like our sharp-eyed and open-eared prophets had told us. Other things were nothing at all like we had ever dreamed. No revelation could be more shocking, more completely unexpected, than that of the cross itself. Earlier stories of the holy slaughter of one’s enemies give way to the stunning vision of a God who will give up his own life to love the ones who hate him. A God who says to his worshippers, take up your cross and do like me.”

If the Creator King could only sit for a single royal portrait, this is the one he would choose — enthroned on a cross with a crown of thorns encircling his head. This self-giving, enemy-loving Word lies at the heart of every true word that ever has been or will be spoken. This is who God was from the beginning of creation. This is what the Word, who was always with God, knows.

No one has ever seen God. God’s only son, who is at the Father’s side, has made God known.

The least person on this side of the Word’s becoming flesh is more qualified than the greatest and wisest before to know the heart of God. How can this be? Because he is, as Colossians says, the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:25). He is, as Hebrews describes it, the imprint of God’s being” (Hebrews 1:3). We have seen the one in whom the fullness of God dwells.

Reading the Bible without centering everything on him is a bit like sorting through a jumbled pile of Legos on the floor. Each individual piece has its own particular form. But the pieces can be combined and connected to form an almost infinite number of shapes. There would be no real way to know that any shape was truer than the rest.

But meeting Jesus, the Word made flesh, is like glimpsing the outside of the box. For the first time we see the image of how things look when all the pieces are properly arranged. We see the design God intended. Each individual piece is authoritative as it takes its proper place in the Word’s defining portrait of God and God’s desires.

Perhaps some today might agree that first century Galileans had a privileged view. But we stand thousands of years and a world away from what they saw and touched. Sure, we have testimony of reliable witnesses. But could secondhand revelation ever be enough for us?

The answer is quite simply that Jesus never meant for it to be. Before the Word-became-flesh returns to the right hand of the Father, he informs followers that he isn’t even close to being finished. The words he has spoken have laid a foundation. But he has so much more still to say (John 16:12). The Living Word doesn’t intend to ever be done speaking.

When he goes away, the Word explains, he will send the Spirit of truth. The Spirit won’t ever speak on his own. He will speak only what he hears from the Word himself. The Spirit will teach — extending the Word’s revelation of God’s true image to situations and questions nobody has dreamed of yet. The Spirit will remind — anchoring every new insight in the concrete, historic reality of the Word enfleshed.

And thus the story continues. The Living Word speaking. The Spirit translating. Until the truth of the unseen God is glimpsed by every corner of the globe. Until the image of God is etched on the page of every human heart.

Jesus as Word Authors

The Authors

Josh Patterson is 26 years old and married to Noelle. He is host of the popular podcast Rethinking Faith” and most recently served as the High School & Young Adult Pastor at a multi-ethnic/multi-cultural community church in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Josh is particularly interested in Jesus-centred theology as well as bringing a Jesus-centred flavour to the world of open and relational theology.

Levy Soko lives in Lusaka, Zambia and serves as District Overseer for the Brethren In Christ (BIC) church in Zambia, representing and providing leadership to a network of about 60 churches in the region. Levison has a Bachelor of Theology and a Diploma of Theology, as well as certificates in Psycho-social HIV/AIDS Counseling, Christian Counseling, and peace and conflict transformation. He lectures at Sikalongo Bible Institute in addition to his responsibilities with the BIC.

Meghan Good is teaching pastor at Trinity Mennonite Church in Glendale, Arizona. She’s the author of a book on biblical interpretation (The Bible Unwrapped) and is currently writing a second book on contemporary loneliness and the gospel. She has degrees from Portland Seminary, Duke Divinity School, and Gordon College. Theologically, some of her interests include biblical hermeneutics, spiritual practices, preaching, and rediscovering the place of the Spirit in Jesus-centered faith. 

Greg Boyd is a former atheist, theologian, author, and senior pastor of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. He holds a PhD from Princeton Theological Seminary and has (co-)authored 18 books, including the best-selling and award-winning Letters From a Skeptic and The Myth of a Christian Nation. Through his unique blend of passion, boldness, and intellectual insight, Greg’s vision is to provoke thinking in both Christians and non-believers to inspire a deeper faith in and understanding of God and Christ.

The Theology Circle is a group of Jesus Collective leaders joining together to provide theological direction and resources for our network, mentor theological leaders, and provide a peaceful voice for this growing Jesus-centred movement around the world. You can learn more and meet the Circle here.