Podcast Date: September 21, 2017
Speakers in the audio file:
Jon: Hey, this is Jon at The Bible Project. This week we're going to finish our
conversation on the Christian Ideal. It's a discussion about the biblical theme
of holiness. If you haven't listened to the first hour of this conversation, I
highly recommend that. It's the last podcast episode.
We're having this conversation on holiness because we're making a
workbook that will accompany the theme video of holiness. So we had to get
together and discuss what we wanted to cover how we were going to frame
the contents of the workbook.
We began to wrestle with the question, "what's going to make someone want
to pick up a book on holiness?" As we thought about that, we realized that
holiness is really an answer to a more basic question we have as humans,
which is, how do I live a full, complete joyful life where relationships are right,
where I myself feel good about who I am? It's a desire we all have. It's a
desire for divine life.
Tim: The Christian narrative is putting its thumb on the universal human feeling of
lack, of emptiness, or of disappointment, or failure. Then in Jesus of Nazareth,
who's the embodiment of the whole story, he is that fullness meeting us on
our own terms and then inviting us into something more. And who doesn't
want to be a part of that kind of story?
Many people don't want to be a part of an official religious institution, where
a person would say, "I want to participate in the divine nature." Most people
would never say that. But I'm aware that I don't love as well as I ought to. So
if we want to reframe holiness, we want to say, "Let those longings and
disappointments, both speak to something real."
Jon: Today on the podcast, we talk holiness - how to participate in the divine
nature. We're joined by Paul Pastor, a colleague of ours, just helping us write
this workbook. Thanks for listening. Here we go.
Another word people use to describe that otherness, the completeness, is the
word "divine." Like, "That was such a divine moment." "That was a divine
encounter." "I'm experiencing the divine."
Tim: "That meal was divine."
Jon: It's almost like we're talking about the quest for the divine in a way. I'm
almost imagining the workbook being called something like seeking the
divine or the life of the Divine or something. But what does it mean
practically to be looking for a life that is more full and more abundant than
you normally experience it? Why do we have that and what does the Bible
have to say about living that kind of life, seeking that kind of life?
That now grabs me, and I'm like, "Yeah, I want to know about that." Then all
sudden, now I'm talking about these things like "God's holiness" and "purity
laws." All of a sudden we talk about, actually, that's a dangerous quest. Think
of why we live in an imperfect state. It's going to be a perilous kind of task at
Now all those things have a lot more bearing for me and are more interesting
than just going into and talking abstractly about perfection and God's
Tim: But it raises the question, what does it mean for a human to become divine?
Some people get nervous with that kind of question. As far as my life
experience, I don't realize any kind of divine ideal on a regular basis. But I
have moments where I experience something very powerful and
transcendent, I wish they were more often. And it seems to me, that's what
the whole biblical tradition is calling humans into is, there is something more.
Jon: There's those are moments where you realize you've been working really hard
at a relationship or something, and you're seeing the fruit of that. Or you've
been working really hard on a project to help you and help other people and
you see the fruit of that.
And there's a sense of when it all starts working and evil isn't corrupting it, it's
just moving, you're like, "Whoa, this feels right." And it is rare because there is
a lot of corruption and we never fully can realize these things even in our best
intentions. But that is something we long for.
I don't think anyone would be like, "Yeah, no, I don't really want that." I think
people would say, "I don't know how to attain that. I don't think I ever would
be able to." But no one would say, "Count me out of that. Deal me out."
Paul: It strikes me that some of the most direct advice as to how to live that ideal
comes from the Apostle Paul in his writings. He always points back to the
person of Jesus and the idea that if we are in Jesus, the Holy One, we
somehow take his life into ourselves and can begin manifesting that and
living that in our individual lives, not just in relationship to a good life or what
we might say is a wholly or a morally pure life, but actually to the point where
we get to inherit everything that he gets to inherit.
It's this very abundant language where because he took on our poverty, we
get his richness because he took on our death, we get his life. He says again
and again "have the same mind in yourself that was in Jesus, walk like Jesus,
grow up to statue of Jesus."
Jon: That's where this gets really mystical is that, can you connect to the same
power that Jesus is connected to? Can the Spirit of Jesus live inside of you?
Can you keep in step with it? It's not like a five-step program.
Tim: No. In the video, we actually just use one obscure Old Testament illusion in
the Gospel of John to do that where we connected Ezekiel's river, he has a
vision of God's holy presence emanating out of the temple to make the
universe new by a river. What he sees is this image of a river flowing out of
Jerusalem, going to the most desolate place on the planet, the Dead Sea
Valley and making it new.
Then in the Gospel of John chapter 7, I think it is - that might be chapter 4 -
he has this phrase where he talks about "for those who believe in me, streams
of water will flow out of their bellies flowing up to eternal life."
He's picking up vocabulary from that vision, but what he's saying is, Jesus
talked about himself as the temple. Then he says, "Those who come to me
participate in this divine vitalizing life that flows out of God and that goes out
into creation and people can participate in that." In the video on holiness,
that's all we did with it. Then we were like, "And then Jesus followers are to be
part of the stream."
This brings us in then to the broader narrative, and holiness just becomes one
Jon: Right. This is connected to then living in the spirit.
Tim: Yeah, and all sorts of other things, too. But it's the Holy Spirit.
Jon: Yeah, the Holy Spirit. So it is very connected.
Tim: And it's this Holy Spirit that makes people holy. By that, they're set apart, but
they're set apart because they're becoming more like the Holy God. They're
participating more in the divine life.
Paul: Two words that we used earlier we're "mimic" and "participate" in regards to
how we relate to God's holiness. That's strikes me. Those are really interesting
that we mimic who God is and that we participate somehow in the space and
the life that he's created to be a canvas for his abundance.
Tim: In the second letter of Peter, he uses a phrase that Protestants haven't quite
known what to do with, but the Eastern Orthodox traditions have really
jumped on this. But he says in 2 Peter Chapter 1, "Grace and peace to you.
God's divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and
godliness by truly knowing him who called us by his glory and excellence. For
by these traits, his glory, and excellence, he's granted to us is precious and
magnificent promises so that by them, y'all may become participants in God's
divine nature, escaping the corruption that's in the world by last.
Then he goes on to give this ethical exultation towards moral excellence,
knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness. I don't think the word
holiness appeared, but he's talking about it.
Paul: But it's a nature thing. He call this theosis don't they?
Tim: That's right. There's a divine set of character traits that set God apart as holy.
The whole biblical story is God getting people to share more in that divine
Paul: I can get behind that.
Jon: He calls it glory and goodness.
Tim: That's right. Glory and goodness.
Jon: Which are different ways to approach that same...
Tim: Once again, return to that thing. Holiness is just describing the difference
between me and I being—
Jon: It's experience of interacting with glory and goodness.
Tim: Yes. The glory and goodness and beauty and power are the things that are
Paul: That's really interesting then because Peter here and then Paul as well, they
often do follow up these huge theological expositions, obviously with these
opportunities to exhort and tell us how to live and maybe a way of thinking
about it is to think of those exultations as protocol - as the new protocol for
approaching the holiness found in Jesus. But now the holiness it's found in
ourselves as well through the Holy Spirit.
Tim: It's protocol when you come into contact with being who is life and love.
Paul: And anything having to do with life or death, I wonder if the same logic of
the ritual purity laws would apply.
Jon: There's also some purity language in this if you continue on to verse 9. It says,
"Whoever does not have the character qualities is nearsighted and blind,
forgetting that they have been cleansed."
Tim: So what are we saying?
Paul: This guide us back to the ideal in some little way, right? This points us—
Jon: Peter here is talking about the desire for the ideal, the quest for the ideal.
Tim: Which he calls the divine nature.
Jon: And he says that there is a divine power that we have in order to participate
in it, to have a godly life - that's another way to talk about it - and it comes
through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and goodness.
Is he talking about Jesus there or is he talking about God?
Paul: Who is the calling one?
Tim: I think God. The Father is the calling one. I'm just noticing the phrase "sharers
or participants of the divine nature." The word "share" is the word "koinonia"
which is a common Greek New Testament word for "participation" or
Actually, in the earlier conversation that we weren't recording, we were
talking about having a movement of the book on holiness be about
participating in the "divine life." And that's exactly the phrase that he uses
Jon: He says, "So that through them, referring to the promises, you may koinonia
in the divine nature?
Tim: You may become koinonus, a participator in God's divine nature.
Jon: That seems to me the anchor of all this is participating in the divine nature.
That when the rubber hits the road, that's why all these matters. And holiness
is a good way to begin to unpack how the Bible thinks about that idea.
Tim: Correct, yeah. Because in a sense, humans are already called an "image of the
Divine." They are images of the divine, I guess, who are capable of being even
more closely connected to divine.
Paul: Through Jesus who is the icon, right?
Tim: Yeah, that's right.
Paul: The Greek word is "the icon." And so in the icon who is himself not just an
image, but also the reality behind the image. Because he says, "If you've seen
me, you've seen the Father and were brought into him." There is this sense of
really intimate, mystical, strange union that is at the heart of the gospel.
Tim: I think I'm not super well read on the history of the Christian missionary
effort. But Christianity has been compelling to hundreds of millions of people
more. What what's up with that? There's something really powerful about a
felt need of the human condition that I ought to be but in reality, I'm this.
The Christian narrative, this is putting its thumb on a really universal human
feeling of lack of emptiness or of disappointment or failure. Then in Jesus of
Nazareth, who's the embodiment of the whole story, he's that fullness
meeting us on our own terms and then inviting us into something more. And
who doesn't want to be a part of that kind of story? Many people don't want
to be a part of an official religious institution that's trying to—
Jon: Or moralism?
Tim: Or moralism or something. Many people find fullness and lots of different
kinds of things, but that is the essence of the story. Whether a person would
say, "I want to participate in the divine nature,' most people would never say
that. They wouldn't use that language. But I'm aware that I'm I don't love as
well as I ought to and I'm very aware that I'm mortal. It's becoming more
clear to me every day.
Paul: "I want abundance." We all say that.
Tim: Yeah. If we want to reframe holiness for people, we want to say that those
longings and disappointments are real and that they...This is a CS Lewis
theme, I guess then. It's either we're just projecting our desires and hopes
onto the universe and we're just making this up, or those speak to something
real that we actually live in a world where it's possible, or that those needs
and desires speak to something that can meet them.
Jon: It's a pretty radical claim to say that interacting with that kind of life is
possible, not just some fantasy that you can live a life that is much bigger
than common life - this divine life.
Here's another thing I'm thinking about. If this is just about holiness, there's
some clarity for me about the word "holiness" which is it's really just that
moment I love you talking about being at the shore. This moment of coming
in touch with something transcendent and realizing how other that thing is
and how small you are, and realizing how grand and awesome it is, but also
how dangerous it is.
It's those mix of emotions that's is very nuanced, beautiful moment that is the
word "holiness." We describe that as encountering something holy. Now if
that's all we're trying to do is tell people that's what holiness is. We can just
write that chapter, and then we can be like, "That's holiness."
Then we can maybe throw some stuff in about how does purity laws fit into
that and how does Jesus talk about it and change. We can talk about the
narrative. But if we do want to wrap this, the other opportunities to wrap this
in a bigger conversation of, why is that such a special moment and is there
any hope for going through the veil and connecting to that holy thing in a
way that won't destroy you but will make you complete?" That's the bigger
narrative that I'm wondering, "Do we want to tackle that in this book?"
Paul: Interesting to think through the book of Hebrews in relation to that. The way
that Jesus unites God's nature with the protocol of approaching him, he is our
great high priest who has really united in himself, fit demand and the
satisfaction of the demand.
Tim: Yeah, that's right. The Letter to the Hebrews picks up the priestly traditions of
the Old Testament that point out this gap and then says that the incarnate
Son of God is the fulfillment, the embodiment of that overabundance to us in
Jon: But just from this conversation, the word "holy" for me has gone from being a
word that's difficult and loaded and feels even a little trite to feeling more
inspiring and almost wishing that we did have it in a normal language. It's this
moment of transcendence, this moment of "I've encountered something
really special and bigger and more complete and I got to come in contact
with it if only by vicinity." I've only got to sort of see it but I want more of it.
If you ever met a celebrity, there's a sense of like, 'Whoa. I'm right next to
you." And for whatever reason, they just feel bigger than life, more important.
It's this exhilarating feeling.
Tim: Usually that's because we ascribe to them some kind of more full existence.
Jon: They are heroes.
Tim: They must be a human who's a better human.
Jon: More human.
Tim: We actually have some friends of ours, their neighbors and friends, they met
the pope recently. It was a husband and wife. The wife, she was describing
what it was like to meet the pope.
Jon: What kind of words do you use in this situation like this?
Tim: Compelling fascination or whatever. She said it was like one of those
moments where you're not in control of yourself. She ended up looking away
for a moment and then she turned back and he was standing in front of her.
Then her cell phone was in her hand to take a picture and she grabbed the
Pope's hand and put the cell phone in his hands.
Jon: She just didn't know why.
Tim: Then all sudden, she's putting her cell phone in the Pope's hand smiling and
not knowing what to say. And someone took a picture of that moment for
her. She was showing me this picture of her looking into the eyes of the
Jon: She lost her faculties.
Tim: Yeah, totally.
Paul: She was bewitched.
Tim: That's a good example. These are almost always people that we don't know.
Jon: You ascribe some mystery to them.
Tim: Some superhuman quality to them. Then when we encounter them, we feel
like we're in the presence of something of the holy. Isn't that interesting?
Jon: It is interesting.
Paul: Coming back for a moment to reframing the word, what do you guys think
about how to handle myths of holiness? What do you think about having
synonyms? Almost like a little fake thesaurus and a real thesaurus of how the
Bible uses holy? These are words that you might replace holy within your life:
arrogant, moralistic, naysaying.
You think of Church Lady from SNL; stuffy, boring. But in the Bible's
imagination, holiness is actually the opposite of all those things.
Jon: Part of this workbook will be making that shift where when you hear that
word you get excited instead of deflated. After this conversation, the word
now has this...he used the word "sparkle" before. But it has this quality too,
which is kind of like it has some more pop and excitement and vitality, where
before it just felt a little dead.
Tim: If you could interview Moses after the burning bush, what words would you
use to describe what he encountered?
Paul: Sparkly. Super sparkly.
Tim: Or Isaiah? Yeah, exactly.
Jon: I don't know if we have to start by trying to describe the sense of our desire
for the divine but I still think it might be a good place to start. The idea is
again just to flush it out. Start with "we all desire this divine life." We could
start there and then go what is that this abundant, complete, full.
Then take a step back and say, "In the next chapter, why does that even exist
or does it exist and who authored it, and what does it say about the author if
someone put that together, this ideal? Then that's then talking about God as
Then by the fact that he is the author of it, he is holy as an attribute because
he's the only one who's created something so awesome. So not only are you
in the vicinity of the ocean being stoked out of your mind, you can be in the
vicinity of the God who invented the ocean, which is even more transcendent
Tim: I think the biblical authors, especially here, the poets of the Psalms, I'm
thinking of Psalm 19 where you look at the sky and it's a statement or a
testimony to God's Glory, and then it just describes the arc of a son. Just a
day's rotation of the earth and all this metaphor. I'm pretty certain the word
"holiness" doesn't appear anywhere in that poem.
The encounter that I'm having with the ocean on that day is the encounter
the poet's inviting you to have looking at the sun crossing the sky. In both of
those cases, you're being invited to see a person behind these realities.
What I'm actually encountering when I'm overwhelmed, compellingly
fascinated by the pounding surf is the author of the surf. That's how the
biblical authors want me to think so that I am encountering a person when
I'm encountering the power of the...The modern Westerners have so many
hang-ups viewing the world that way but—
Jon: Becomes too - what's the pantheistic maybe? It feels smacks of that? Is that
Tim: I guess there's that. There's I guess more eastern worldviews that the ocean is
an embodiment of the divine. I'm more thinking about the modern western
kind of enlightenment child.
Paul: Nothing but H2O molecules spilling together.
Tim: Or living a disenchanted world, it's just molecules crashing into each other.
Paul: Plato's in there too whenever we talk about this idea of the ideal.
Jon: Oh, yeah. It becomes this very platonic calculus.
Tim: Which may not help us, you're saying?
Paul: No, it doesn't help us because it's almost too close to the biblical imagination
in this sense. I don't want to rabbit trail us, but Plato's whole idea is that
everything we see is a faulty reflection of something that is essential, that
isn't beyond this reality. But the biblical imagination says, "No, this is a
corrupted version, but it's not a faulty reflection and actually the capacity for
goodness is woven in everything that we see, not only as a reflection but in
it's real essential created form."
Tim: You're saying that's a liability using the word "ideal."
Jon: I think we can move away from the word "ideal," and talk more about divine,
or fullness, completeness.
Tim: Divine as an adjective?
Jon: Maybe "divine," and we unpack it. Full, complete, abundant.
Tim: Yeah. I'm trying to think. There is divine as an adjective to talk about how
awesome something is. A meal.
Jon: Yeah, but are we looking for a noun?
Tim: Oh, I see.
Jon: What is it in 2 Peter?
Tim: Divine. It's the word "deity," but then as an adjective, "divine."
Jon: But if we're looking for a noun, what would the noun be?
Paul: Is it too vague to say "God's life"? Like "his kind of life," "his method of
existence," "his mode of being"?
Jon: There's got to be a biblical author that chose a noun at one point to describe
Tim: Yeah. I'm trying to think.
Paul: Just covered kavod, glory?
Tim: Oh, yeah. We talked about this last time. I think glory would be the noun.
Jon: Glory is the noun?
Jon: That's another word you have to unpack though. Let's find a word we don't
Tim: I know.
Jon: Well, we don't find it now, but cool. I think this helps a lot.
Paul: Does it help you?
Jon: It does. It helps me very much. This will be a really, really exciting workbook if
we can bring people from the stodgy feeling of holiness to this very
enchanted and compelling fascination of this life. Man, is there something
there? This is a whole nother conversation.
Paul: Bring it.
Jon: Well, this whole idea of being under a spell, fascinated, and this idea of being
connected to God's Spirit and having the mind of Christ, I've been always just
trying to think like, practically does that mean I get to turn off...
You know when you're in some sort of flow state, and it's like you're just
firing on all cylinders and you're not really being consciously aware of all the
decisions you're making, you're just making them intuitively and effectively, I
wonder if that's it...It's almost a sense of you're under spell, right? You're
connected to this kind of like energy - some people call it the muse - and you
There's something very similar to that. It seems to be walking in the Spirit,
having the mind of Christ, these kinds of things, which is living life in such a
way where you lose your sense of self, you aren't so consciously trying to
control everything and you're living out of this other power, and in a way you
could say you're fascinated, you're enchanted, or you're spellbound in a way.
Paul: Paul talks about this when he talks about basically living out the life of Christ
in such a way that he feels like he's actually dead and that Jesus' life has
come to life inside him so that it's the Messiah working out the works of the
Messiah through Paul.
Tim: Not me living.
Paul: Yes, not me living but Christ living in me.
Tim: Or you'll say, "I worked harder than any of the other apostles at planting
churches." And they'll say, "But it was God's grace. His overabundant that was
working through me.
Paul: And maybe we're back to Jesus talking about how the living water will flow
out of us, this idea of total abundance and giving where it's not sourced in us,
but it is flowing through us.
Tim: But it's not us.
Jon: Well, that's the sense you get when you were driving on autopilot, right? You
drove and all of a sudden you're there and you're like, "I didn't just do that."
But you did it. Or if you're doing some creative writing or drawing and you
just get into that flow state and all sudden there's 500 words on the page and
you're like, "Whoa, did I write that?"
Jon: I think it's that kind of thing.
Tim: This is Holy Spirit territory in terms of theme video, but also...I was reading
and reflecting on David's final poem in the book of Samuel, 2 Samuel 23 and
he opens it as a prophetic utterance. "The utterance of the son of Jesse raised
up on high. The utterance of the sweet one of the songs of Israel. Then he
says, 'God spoke by me, his word was on my tongue.'"
Then he goes on to give this little parable about how a righteous king is like
the sun shining on a cloudless morning reflecting off the dew of the grass
and making the grass grow. And then how, when a bad king rains, he's like
thorns that grow up and dry out and then you have to cut them down and
burn them in the fire. Those are the last words of David in that poem.
One, it's one of the few statements in the Old Testament explicitly about the
nature of inspiration. David wrote a poem. He woke up and wrote a little
parable one day about a righteous king and a bad game. And it turns out that
he ended up being both. You read this at the end of Samuel, like, "Oh, yeah,
David, you actually were in both of these modes."
The statement about inspiration was the word..no. "God spoke by means of
me His Word on my tongue." He was clearly in full possession of his faculties.
He wrote the poem. No one else wrote it, he wrote it.
Paul: But he recognized there's something different about this.
Tim: Yes, that's right. There's a moment - and the biblical story is full of this. I
mean, I think the story is trying to tell us this ought to be our normal way of
living in the world is so in touch with the divine life that you could say we are
just expressions of God's character in the world. And then all the ethical
expectations of the Bible are to be in that mode.
Jon: It's describing that mode.
Tim: But for me what's fascinating is, especially in modern Western Protestantism
Churchianity, whatever, we have so divided those two, that if God's really at
work, it must not be me. Or if it's me, then it's not God.
Then we bring that to the Bible. Then all of a sudden, if the Bible is a divine
word, it has to be a magical book that fell out of heaven. It can't really have
too many human fingerprints on it, or else we start to get hot and sweaty and
nervous once the human agency of the biblical authors is really highlighted.
But it comes into all these other ways too, where it's an idea that says, "I
become myself most fully when I'm most full of the divine life." I'm not less
myself. I'm more of myself than ever when I'm in touch with the divine life.
Jon: While you are also dead to yourself?
Tim: Totally. When I want to highlight how it's different than my whatever, more
selfish motive existing, I'll say, "It's not me; it's the Messiah living in me. But
then when I want to talk about it in terms of the image of God narrative and
becoming what God made me to be, then it's me - The Word of the Lord is
on my tongue. It's my tongue and it's God Word on my tongue." Anyway.
Jon: All right, that's a good place to end.
Thanks for listening to this episode of The Bible Project. This workbook will
be done sometime early next year. If you want to know when it's done, make
sure to sign up for email updates from our website and you'll get to know
everything that's going at the Bible Project. You can sign up for that at
thebibleproject.com. We've got lots of other free resources available. They're
on our YouTube channel and our website. Also, we have a new podcast. Tim
has a couple decades’ worth of teachings that we are reediting and putting
them up on a podcast called Exploring my Strange Bible. Make sure you've
checked that out as well. Thanks for being a part of this with us.