Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Glory of God, by Arthur Michael Ramsey


On a given Sunday, the word ‘glory’ or its linguistic equivalent is likely used thousands of times in churches across the globe.  We sing it with emotion.  We speak it with force.  But do we understand its richness?
In the scant 92 pages of The Glory of God, Arthur Michael Ramsey journeys through a biblical meaning of ‘glory,’ from Torah through Revelation, countering what he perceives as an inadequate understanding of glory among Christians. In this short work, Ramsey seeks to inform his readers and to persuade them that the New Testament understanding of glory, founded on the Old Testament usage of kavod and centered on the person of Christ, functions as the unifying concept in Christian doctrine and worship.  In the Old Testament, “glory” (kavod) communicates God’s power, radiance, character, and presence, often through physical manifestations like the burning bush and the cloud at Sinai.  In the New Testament (doxa), physical manifestations are minimized and the encounter with God is centered on and fulfilled by Christ, “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb 1:3 ESV).  The one who trusts Christ encounters his glory in the content of faith and in direct fellowship with Christ through the Spirit, responding in the proclamation of Christ’s glory in personal and communal worship.
Chapter one shows how the Old Testament idea of glory (kavod) holds transcendence and presence in tension.  Here God’s comprehensible attributes and his incomprehensible beauty, his immanent presence and un-enterable splendor are intertwined.
Chapter two moves on to the New Testament, where glory (doxa) expounds the ideas of character and radiance-splendor from the Old Testament usage of kavod, as glory founded in creation, centered in the Gospel, and moving toward the Kingdom.  Though the classical Greek notion of reputation may have had some influence, Ramsey finds that the use of doxa in the New Testament reflects its use in the Septuagint, as the Greek translation of kavod.  So, while maintaining the Old Testament elements, the New Testament clarifies an aspect of glory that was shrouded in the Old Testament: the centrality of Christ.
In chapter three, Ramsey begins to define ‘glory’ in terms of the person of Christ.  Glory, as revealed in Christ through the Gospels (especially Mark) is entered through suffering and humiliation, sealed in resurrection, and consummated in the Parousia. 
In chapter four, leading up to what he sees as the clearest communication of Christ's glory in the writings of John (chapters 6 and 7), Ramsey focuses on glory in the writing of Luke (mission), Peter (suffering), and the writer of Hebrews (cross), and in chapter five, he turns to the writings of Paul, where glory is God's character and power, revealed in Christ's person and participated in by the Church.  Paul nearly merges the physical manifestation with the glory experienced in the face of Christ.  Christ’s glory, made known in his earthly Passion and future Parousia is the context in which the Church lives her life and understands her own suffering.
Chapters six and seven unpacking the idea of glory in the writings of John, form a climax for Ramsey.  In the beginning of John's gospel, glory is expressed in the paradox of the incarnation: the Word made flesh, who created everything and gives life to all creatures, who epitomizes and exceeds prophetic expectations, shrouds his glory in suffering flesh, so that only those who trust and follow him are able to understand.  Later in John's writings, the disciples share in Christ's glory by sharing in his service to and worship of the Father in self-giving love (chap 7).  The Holy Spirit works in and through the church, expressing Christ’s glory through the church’s life and proclamation.  This proclamation of Christ’s glory by the Spirit is the mission in which the church is now engaged.
Beginning in chapter eight and continuing through chapter nine, Ramsey integrates his extended definition of glory into Christian doctrine and worship.  Chapter eight shows how God’s glory is expressed in creation, the humiliation of the incarnation, the victory and expiation of the atonement, the participation of his people the Church, and the final destiny of his people and all creation in Christ.  Ramsey shows, in few words, how each doctrine expounds God’s self-giving glory, overflowing through his creation and most fully expressed in the giving of Son and Spirit.  This glory is present in the church, which experiences it as a foretaste of the final revelation, when glory will be unshrouded and all things will be made new.
Chapter nine shows how God's glory is expressed as his people glorify him in worship, proclaiming the love and judgment of God before the entire world.  As our worship is centered on Christ, looking back to his Passion, into his Presence, and forward to his Parousia, our acts of personal and communal worship make known Christ’s glory.  The church is both a witness to and expression of the glory of Christ, sealed by his glorious resurrection.
TheGlory of God is a good primer on glory for Christian teachers and worship leaders who are looking for a richer understanding of glory.  Ramsey provides a basis for and an example of the integration of the meaning of glory with our present understanding of doctrine and practice of worship and grounds this integration in a rich, biblically based definition of glory.

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