Mar 24, 2008

peter-ing in

Some time ago I really enjoyed wrestling with a theological question that has a lot of practical application. While reading something from Scot Mcknight, I found myself challenged by this question:

When does Simon-Peter get his "salvation" certificate (metaphorically speaking)?

  • Is it when he's introduced to Jesus? Andrew introduces his brother to Jesus, who tells him that one day he'll be called "Peter" - is he converted here? Might someone who subscribes to predestination believe this is the big reveal?

  • Is it when he confesses he's a sinner? After fishing all night with no success, Jesus tells Peter to do it again. He does, brings in many, and falls to his knees to declare he's a sinful man. Is he converted here? Confessional-oriented groups might like to think so.

  • Is it when he proclaims Jesus is the Messiah? Jesus asks who people say He is, and Peter erupts with the confession that "You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God." Credal believers would really appreciate this and recognize this as the critical step.

  • Is it after the death and resurrection of Jesus? Peter denies Jesus three times, then after the resurrection confesses His love for Jesus three times. Is he converted here? And if so, which time - when he confesses Phileo love or Agape love? Many who hold to the importance of the veil being torn and the Law being released would claim this was the moment.

  • Is it after he (and the others) receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost? This is after he is boldly preaching to others, then followed by more bold preaching to others. Is he converted here? Surely the Charismatics would think so.

  • Is it after his vision on a rooftop? Here he realizes that the circle of who is considered clean and unclean gets widened when God corrects his understanding. Is he converted here? Spiritual social activists would state this is the moment.

  • Is it when he's crucified upside-down (according to tradition)? Here he would fully identify with Jesus as one last act of surrender. Is he converted here? Extremists would like to think so.

  • Or is it after His baptism? And if so, when is that exactly?

The "moment" of all of this seems questionable by different schools of thought, but the process seems clear:

  • Peter is lost in life.

  • Peter is introduced to Jesus by Andrew.

  • Peter suspects Jesus might be the Messiah.

  • Peter is invited to follow Jesus, and he does.

  • Peter recognizes Jesus as someone profoundly superior.

  • Peter confesses Jesus is the Messiah (but still disagrees that the Messiah should suffer).

  • Peter perceives the Messiah must suffer.

  • Peter confesses his love for Jesus three times.

  • Peter realizes Jesus is Messiah for the Jews and the Gentiles.

  • Peter embraces Jesus' life as a paradigm for Christian living (hence, the writings of Peter in the Bible).

So how do we chart this? And do we need to? (Which is a question in itself.)

Where is the spike on the graph? Or are there several? And if so, which is the biggest?

Keep in mind, I ask these questions to grow in my understanding of how you think about God so that I might grow in my understanding of how I think about Him as well. I'm not trying to stir up a pot without purpose - I have no doubt Peter was converted and have my own idea of when... there obviously is some defining moment in all of this.

I guess my questions are about how we can tell...

if we can tell...

and why the need to tell seems so important to people besides the person who takes that step.

(Especially churches needing to fill out denominational reports on "how many" did "this or that"... which I really don't miss doing, because it gives me more time to connect with those folks in person.)


Annalisa said...

Hmmm...this is such a complicated question...I'm not sure that there WAS a conversion point, as such. I guess I'm kind of of the feeling that sometimes people can grow into their faith and that there isn't necessarily one time that other people (or even themselves) can point to and say 'There, that's when...Just prior to that I was going to hell and then, just after, I wasn't...' (though sometimes there is such a point). I agree that people need to have a definite and personal relationship with Jesus, but what that looks like can be different for different people.
What is the minimum 'theology' that people need to have accepted to 'be a Christian'??? Seems so silly to put it like that... I love theology and creeds and 'knowing' - 'in the head' is where I feel closest to God - but trying to define 'this part of someone's growth towards God' is non-Christian and 'this other part' is Christian seems so foolish.
I guess I'm a bit of a predestination believer (whatever that means to God, and however that gets played out practically, who knows), and so I think that if God's in charge of death and is (or can be) outside of space and time, then 'the point' maybe doesn't matter so much...?? Someone who will be with God in eternity won't die until they're in the (minimum) place God wants them (needs them) to be... gah...words are weak and elusive and mercurial when trying to grapple with these things

john alan turner said...

All of this belies a "bounded set" understanding of salvation and kingdom. That's the danger of wanting to chart it out.

But the mystery of both/and when it comes to kingdom stuff is that Christianity isn't just a bounded set (where you have to "step across the line" to be considered an "insider"). Christianity is also a centered set (meaning the most important part isn't whether or not you're in or out but how close you are to the center -- which is, of course, Jesus).

AnneDroid said...

Wow! What an interesting question, and one I certainly have never thought of. I'm glad I happened across your blog :)

I have no idea what the answer is and I feel totally happy and relaxed about that - a few years ago I'd have been in a real old tizzy trying to dot all the i's and cross all the t's!

John Calvin, in spite of his reputation which probably suggests the opposite, is great at saying in various situations as he tries to iron out what he thinks is a fully comprehensive theology, yeh, you know what? - there's a mystery here, and then leaving it at that.

Tony Myles said...

Annalisa - I'm with you on the process of salvation... I think coming to God is more like walking in a park, hearing music from afar, and then drawing closer to it's symphony so that you begin to hear and see with greater clarity the orchestra. Somehow that's all gotten reduced in recent times and salvation has become solving a math problem. Still... at some point you need to consciously declare what you will do with the symphony - enjoy it from afar, become one of its players, and so on. So at least one defining moment is needed - but not just one. As Paul said, "I die daily."

John - We're on the same page. ;) I map this out the way I did to illustrate that through irony.

Annedroid - It is a mystery, isn't it? Yet may that not create pause in us but further energy forward into its ambiguity that somehow kids understand and adults don't.

john alan turner said...

I figured as much!

Christianity isn't just a bounded set; it's also a centered set.

But it's not just a centered set, either; it's also a dynamic-centered set (where the Center is constantly on the move).

That means it matters less whether we're "in or out" -- and it matters less how close we currently are to the center. It means what matters most is whether we're moving in the same direction the center's moving.

That's when it gets tricky!

Chris Marsden said...

I have been thinking about the idea of the centered set vs. the bounded set a bit lately. I hadn't thought much about the idea of the center being on the move, but I like it. Jesus is busy doing things in the world, and not just standing still for us to observe.

Also... A centered set is plotted on an xy axis. Jesus at the center (moving of course), and we are somewhere plotted around Him. BUT... Jesus is not a 2 dimensional being living in a 2 dimensional plane.

In three dimensional space, 2 items can appear to exist in the same spot even though they may actually be very far apart. Imagine an airplane plotted on a map traveling cross country. Just because the dot that represents the plane is in the same grid as your house does not mean the the plane is near your house. It could be hundreds of feet away or miles away. Our 2 dimensional graph does not accurately represent the whole truth.

So, with that in mind, our centered set becomes more complicated than we initially thought. On top of that, is God even a 3 dimensional being, or are there more dimensions to consider.

Chris Marsden said...

Oh... and btw...

Did Adam and Eve have Belly Buttons?

A similar question, perhaps. And if the answer is no, Adam and Eve did not have belly buttons (which I suspect is the case), than why do we think that the Apostles (or anyone else who had direct contact with Jesus while he lived) would be bound by the same systems of salvation that those who came after followed?