Monday, December 20, 2010

Review: The Real Mary by Scot McKnight

How do you talk about Jesus' mama? That's a good question to ask. If we are honest, most of us talk more about what we don't believe about Mary than about what we do. You can count on a guy like Scot McKnight to call us (evangelicals) out on that one (I mean that in a good way). And that's exactly what he does in this book.

I know that I haven't thought too much about Mary in the past. I know that Catholics make a lot of her (I just went to Montreal this summer and saw the light show at Notre Dame which proves that point). And I also know that God chose her to be the bearer of the Messiah. So what?

McKnight helps us to make sense of Mary. In her song (known as the Magnificat) she says that "from now on people will call me blessed." McKnight goes through the various stories of Mary so that Evangelicals can call the mother of our Lord (God?) blessed.

Mary longed for God to come to his people and establish his kingdom, his new society of justice and peace. Like most people Mary probably thought that the Messiah would march into Jerusalem, kill the Romans and establish his throne. God visited Mary and told her that she would give birth to God's anointed one. Mary submitted to the will of God even though she knew people would consider her an adulteress. But Mary rejoiced because God was going to subvert those on the throne and make her own son King. Promises upon promises. But Mary would discover that things weren't going to be quite as straightforward as she thought. God would indeed bring his new society where his will is done. But this would happen through the suffering of her own son. Mary continued to learn what kind of Messiah her son was to be throughout his life. Jesus placed a priority on loving God which challenged the honor-your-parent commandment; it showed Mary that she would have to submit to her own son as Lord and that Jesus was establishing a new family with himself as the focus.

McKnight also helpfully discusses what Catholics believe about Mary. He tries to avoid caricatures but is still critical at times. In the last chapter McKnight helps us figure out what to do with Mary. One of his suggestions is that we hold an "honor Mary" day where we return to the stories of Mary and glean fresh insight. Mary is a great example of what it means to follow Jesus in the real world.

This book is an excellent Christmas read and, best of all, the gospel shines through in nearly every chapter. Highly recommended!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Impressions: Embracing Grace by Scot McKnight

At a small group I was at one Sunday we were having a conversation about how we apply the gospel to our lives as Christians. We made the observation that for some Christians the gospel is something for non-believers, something that you don't really think about once you get saved. What I have found hard is that some people reduce the gospel to a few propositions about having your sins forgiven so that it can be difficult to apply it to every situation in life. Enter Scot McKnight. Embracing Grace is a book about the gospel. It tells us that the gospel is something that we proclaim but that we perform as well.

Here is how McKnight explains the work of the gospel:
"The gospel is the work of God to restore humans in union with God and communion with others, in the context of a community for the good of others and the world"


Eikons: Mcknight says that it is important where we begin when we are thinking about the gospel. McKnight begins with creation and the story of the Eikon (the greek word for "image"). Humans are made in the image of God which means they are God's special creation and are like Him in some way; we are made for relationships with God, others and the world.

Holistic: McKnight's view of sin and atonement are robust. This is because he has a holistic view of the two. Sin is not merely the breaking of a law (although it does include that) but culpable shalom-breaking which affects our relationship with God, others and the world. If we are dealing with a robust problem then we need a robust solution. McKnight emphasizes the importance of the incarnation, the life, death, resurrection and pentecost to the atonement (and therefore the gospel). He favors the recapitulation theory (i.e. Jesus became what we are so we can become what he is) since it can fairly incorporate all the other important theories of atonement (in his book A Community Called Atonment he calls this "identification for incorporation").

Community: God saves individuals but individualism is an enemy of the gospel. God accomplishes his redemptive purposes in the context of communities (i.e. Israel, the Church, and the Kingdom). McKnight's definition of the kingdom can not be divorced from community (and why would it? a kingdom always includes people.). God's kingdom is his society where his will is done. It includes people. God restores us to union with him and communion with others in the context of a community, the kingdom community.

Missional: God creates this community for the good of the world. This is the part that I actually struggled with the most. But when we understand Jesus' words in Matthew 5 everything falls into place. We are to be God's kingdom community that acts as salt and light in this world so that others will glorify God because of the good we do.

McKnight's book has helped me to appreciate the gospel more. With his framework we can actually preach the gospel from the Gospels.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Impressions: Jesus Creed by Scot McKnight

Jesus Creed is a book about love. For a variety of reasons (some sinful and some justified) I have been suspect of books that are all about love. I think for a long time I have associated this word with flakey Christianity, a Christianity without guts. When Mcknight writes about love, however, he writes about love with a backbone; it is a love that isn't easy: God love and neighbour love (what McKnight calls the Jesus Creed).

Some Reflections:

1) McKnight begins the book by explaining what the Jesus Creed is all about. Jesus takes the Shema of Judaism and amends it to include neighbour love. When the Jesus Creed becomes a prayer we get the Lord's prayer. McKnight recommends repeating these often. This is a powerful tool for spiritual growth and I have found that repeating the Jesus Creed and the Lord's prayer reminds me of what it means to act like a Christian. It tells me that I become more like Jesus when I am identifying the needs of others and become a servant. Like the Good Samaritan we are to look to the side, not just 'out there', but in our own homes as well.

2) McKnight says that we should embrace the stories of those who embrace the Jesus Creed. Of all the people he writes about in this section his chapter on Mary fascinated me the most. Evangelicals don't generally say much about Mary but McKnight claims (speculates?) that a lot of what Jesus said and taught was learned from his mama. He looks at the Magnificat and points out that Mary had a kingdom vision; hers was a vision of a society where God's will is done, where things are put right at last.

3) "A spiritually formed person lives out kingdom values," says McKnight. One thing that particularly excited me about this book was the emphases placed on the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is the society where God's will is done and the Jesus Creed is lived out. One of these values is that this kingdom is a kingdom of mustard seeds. This was helpful because many of us are attracted to those things which are GIGANTIC! But God's kingdom is marked by humble beginnings. This means that we can embody God's kingdom in the little, mundane, things in life. In other words, the kingdom is applicable to every day life.

4) Scot is all for the Bible. Not only does each chapter begin with a passage of scripture to reflect on before diving into the chapter but he tells us that one way we abide in Jesus is to learn at his feet; one way we learn at his feet is by reading and meditating on what Jesus taught us. He gives us helpful advice when he says that we don't always need our commentaries and study tools but just our bibles, our prayers, and the question, "What does this passage tell me about God's character?"

5) Finally, Scot goes through a variety of episodes in the life of Jesus and teaches us that those who love Jesus participate in his life. For Scot Jesus represents his people. This means that we can participate in his life, death, and resurrection. Jesus loved God and his neighbours perfectly; this is good news because God sees us as he sees Jesus (Reformed readers may particularly enjoy this section of the book). As people who fail to do these things we can find strength and power in the reality that Jesus did these things for us so that we would then be enabled to do them ourselves.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Righteousness and Cruciform Living

I have really been enjoying the Common English Bible which is a fresh translation of the scriptures (So far they have released the NT but you can get the Psalms from the website). At the same time, I have been becoming more and more convinced that justification comes through our participation in Christ's death and resurrection and includes transformation along with a declaration (thank you Michael Gorman ;-)). As a result, this translation of Phil. 3.9-11 really caught my attention:

In Christ I have a righteousness that is not my own and that does not come from the Law but rather from the faithfulness of Christ. It is the righteousness of God that is based on faith.10 The righteousness that I have comes from knowing Christ, the power of his resurrection, and the participation in his sufferings. It includes being conformed to his death11 so that I may perhaps reach the goal of the resurrection of the dead.

Righteousness comes from participating in the death and resurrection of Jesus and includes being conformed to his death. We are raised to be cruciform (thanks again Gorman!).

Monday, July 19, 2010

Is Christianity Just a Nice Dream?

Although it's a little early to be talking about Christmas I thought this quote from N.T. Wright was very sobering.

"For many, Christianity is just a beautiful dream. It's a world in which everyday reality goes a bit blurred. It's nostalgic, cosy, and comforting. But real Christianity isn't like that at all. Take Christmas, for instance: a season of nostalgia, of carols and candles and firelight and happy children. But that misses the point completely. Christmas in not a reminder that the world is really quite a nice old place. It reminds us that the world is a shockingly bad old place, where wickedness flourishes unchecked, where children are murdered, where civilized countries make a lot of money by selling weapons to uncivilized ones so they can blow each other apart. Christmas is God lighting a candle; and you don't light a candle in a room that's already full of sunlight. You light a candle in a room that's so murky that the candle, when lit, reveals just how bad things really are. The light shines in the darkness...and the darkness has not overcome it" (Quoted from For All God's Worth: True Worship and the Calling of the Church, Eerdman's 1997).

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Review: The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission

As I write this review I have just set down John Dickson's new book on evangelism "The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission." There are not very many books that I would consider to be "life-changing" but after finishing this one I can confidently say that this will have lasting effects on my life. The reason I initially picked this book up was because I wanted to see how N.T. Wright and Alistair Begg could end up endorsing the same book on evangelism. Now I understand.

The Best Kept Secret is basically a book on evangelism for the whole church. Dickson makes a helpful distinction between proclaiming the gospel and promoting the gospel. This book is primarily about the latter and shows a variety of ways that all Christians can participate in "gospel ministry."

Evangelism, in the strict sense of the word, is a verbal activity. It is the actual communication of the news of the royal birth, life, teaching and miracles, atoning death, resurrection and ascension of the Messiah and Lord, Jesus Christ. But this verbal activity is not the only aspect of gospel ministry. One example of promoting the gospel is the financial giving towards Christian mission. Paul speaks of those who give financially towards his mission as "partners in the gospel". These "gospel promoting" activities are not of secondary importance. They are actually vital to the mission of the church.

For Dickson not every Christian is an evangelist. There are some Christians that are set apart for the verbal proclamation of the gospel. This does not mean that everyone else just sits around and lets the evangelists take care of all the gospel work. All Christians are to have a "salvific mind-set." They are to be people who are passionate about the salvation of others. This "salvific mind-set" expresses itself in a variety of ways from letting our light shine before others to being ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us.

One of the best chapters was chapter 8, "What is the Gospel?" Dickson does not settle for a systematic presentation of the gospel that presents the doctrine of sin and then the doctrine of the atonement. These are central to the gospel but need to be placed within the narrative accounts of Jesus. The theme of the gospel is the kingdom of God and the content of the gospel includes the royal birth, life, teaching and miracles, saving death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. In other words, the four books at the beginning of our New Testaments are actually Gospel.

This is an excellent book that would be a good read for those who have no experience when it comes to sharing the gospel and for those who have been doing it their whole Christian life. Dickson roots all his discussion in the Scriptures and refuses to have a narrow view of gospel ministry. I am sure that I will be turning to this book again and again for wisdom on this amazing topic.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Symbolic Praxis and the Christian

Last night I went to the bank to change my bank card PIN because my card had been compromised. I didn't really want to do it but I had to. Unfortunately it turned out to be a big waste of time because it wouldn't work, my number wouldn't reset. I'll have to give it a try another time. I had something I had to do and I did it (at least I attempted to). A lot of the things we do from day to day do not have meaning attached to them. We run errands, meaningless little endeavors to keep life going; but as for meaning, there is nothing significant about the event itself.

In the gospels, on the other hand, the actions of the main characters are full of symbolic meaning. N.T. Wright calls this "symbolic praxis". One such example is the significant figure John the Baptist. From his clothes to his actions all of it revealed something about his message. I have been reading through Mary Healy's commentary on the Gospel of Mark and she says this about his food, "The locusts and wild honey again evoke the exodus, where they represented God's judgment on sin (the plague of locusts...) and his promises to his people (a land flowing with milk and honey...)."

John was saying that the time that God had promised was here. The Messiah-King was coming to deliver God's people from their sin and inaugurate the Kingdom, God's new world order. John saw it necessary to change his diet to display this reality. Jesus lived by the same rule. Not that he ate locusts and honey but his actions were deeply symbolic of his messianic task and the kingdom that was coming to bear on the world through his actions. One only has to think about the fig tree and the cleansing of the temple to see the truth of this claim.

All of this is to be true of Christians as well. From holiness to deeds of mercy all of our actions are deeply symbolic of a great reality. God's kingdom has come through the crucified and risen Messiah. He is reigning at God's right hand and has given the Spirit to his people. The messianic age has dawned. Therefore when we put sin to death in our lives we are saying, "we are under the sway of a different ruler."; when we help the poor and needy we are saying, "This is what it looks like when Jesus becomes king!" What other ways can our actions point people to the risen and reigning Messiah?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Failure and Family Devotions

Over at the Resurgence blog there have been a few very good posts on the topic of family worship. As I read them I was reminded of the importance of this ministry and my repeated failure at leading my wife. I am trying to figure out why it is that I can be so neglectful of family worship when I know that it is exactly what my family needs. Here are some possible reasons:

1. I Don't Believe (enough) that it is Important

Sure I know that family worship is important. But do I really believe it is that important? I don't think I have ever forgotten to eat a meal, forgotten to sleep or put clothes on before I leave the house. These are all basic to my daily life. Why, then, do I easily forget to lead my wife in regular worship? The only reason I can think of is that I don't really think it is that important. In reality, though, this ministry is probably more important than food, sleep and clothing put together.

2. I Find More Satisfaction in Other Things

I like television, reading and browsing through various blogs but too often I find more satisfaction in doing these things than I do spending time worshiping the Lord with my wife. These things can be good and do have their place but only the Lord can satisfy our deepest longings.

3. I Don't Make Time

Sometimes we just don't have time for family worship. Some nights we have places to go and by the time we get home it's already time to get ready for bed. This is okay. More often than not, however, we don't have regular times of family worship simply because I don't make the time. We eat dinner, watch television, read on our own and by the time I think of having family worship we are too tired. If, however, I were to think of this ahead of time and schedule 20 minutes after dinner then we could easily fit this into our night. Perhaps we could even have devos on the run when we are having nights out.

When it comes down to it it seems as though I fail at this so often because of unbelief. I do not believe that family worship is important, satisfying or worth my time. These are all lies. Thankfully I have Christ. In him there is no more condemnation. I have been set right (or right-wised) with my God. He has declared me righteous and given me to ability to love him above all things. I have become his righteousness. Best of all, this isn't due to the quality or frequency of my devotional life. It is all by grace.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Review: God the Peacemaker: How the Atonement Brings Shalom

Sometimes I just need to read a good book on the cross. There are so many things that can distract us from that which is most important but the Bible says that the cross and resurrection of Jesus are matters of "first importance". This is a topic that no Christian (or no human for that matter) can afford to make peripheral.

Graham Cole's book (published by IVP) is a book on the atonement. In the introduction he lays out a variety of questions that he seeks to answer but essentially the book is about the cross, its saving significance and how it fits in the unfolding drama of God's redemption of his fallen creation.

Cole explains that there is a "big picture" of the Bible. He calls this big picture a divine comedy (or a U-shaped story). God has a plan to restore his created order (what Cole calls God's "atoning project" or "peacemaking project") and the atonement should be seen within this project. This, however, does not cause Cole to minimize the cross; rather, he sees the cross as central to this project. This, in my opinion, is the book's greatest strength. Cole manages to see the cross within God's larger drama without doing injustice to its centrality. In many books the larger drama takes center stage and the cross becomes one small part of that drama. Other times the cross is taken out of its context and it just becomes the way in which "I" get to heaven when I die.

Also helpful is the fact that Cole does not minimize sin. He acknowledges that the human predicament extends beyond a barrier to personal fellowship with God; Cole demonstrates how all our relationships are affected by the "rupture" even our relationship with the cosmos. But he never ignores the fact that all the problems in the world are ultimately due to sin. He, therefore, quotes Carson with approval, "In sum, we find ourselves fighting the Bible's entire story line if we do not recognize that our deepest need is to be reconciled to God" (p. 83).

Popular today, especially in scholarly treatments of the cross, is to question the idea that penal substitution plays a central role, or any, in the biblical concept of atonement. Some pick a different models like Christus Victor (Christ's victory over evil) and place them at the center. Cole doesn't seem to choose a "central" model but he does say that a model like Christus Victor, "needs the explanatory power of substitutionary atonement" (p. 184).

At the end of the day, I didn't come away from this book feeling ready to win a debate. Rather, I came to see the glory of God's peacemaking project. God desires "shalom" for this world (peace with God, peace with others, and peace with the cosmos) and at the dead center of this project stands the cross where the second member of the triune God paid for the sins of the world so that he could have a people who would be apart of this project to the praise of his glory.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Schreiner on Righteousness and Justification

I found this great quote from Thomas Schreiner on Justification and Righteousness in Romans (HT: Mike Bird).

"The term 'righteousness of God' in Rom 1:17 ... is clearly fundamental for all of Romans, and it is unlikely that it can be confined solely to forensic or transformative categories. Those whom God has vindicated he also changes. In my opinion, it is doubtful that the term Paul features in presenting his gospel would contain only a forensic dimension. This transformation does not involve eperfection, and it is also crucial to see that God's transforming righteousness is still an alien righteousness - given by God as a gift to sinners. Nor is there any suggest that sinners somehow prepare themselves by good deeds to receive this righteousness. The saving righteousness of God is a gift received by faith alone, and God declares sinners to be in the right before him on the basis of Christ's atoning death. Yet God's declaration of righteousness - which is a gift of the age to come invading the present evil age - is an effective declaration, so that those who are pronounced righteous are also transformed by God's grace. Such a transformation is due solely to God's grace and does not involve a perfect righteousness, nor is there any suggestion that the good works that follow this transformation merit eternal life. Nonetheless, as Rom. 6 shows, believers are changed by the grace of God, and this transformation is an essential ingredient in God's saving work. The use of the verb dikaioun in Rom. 6:7 demonstrates that God's declaration of righteousness really frees people from sin. Similarly, in Rom. 5:19 Paul teaches that those who are incorporated into Christ Jesus are actually made righteous, just as those in Adam are truly made sinners. The forensic is the basis for the transformative, but the one cannot be sundered from the other. Those who are the recipients of the ministry of the Spirit have also been transformed by the ministry of righteousness (2 Cor. 3:8-9). Just as those who are condemned are actually guilty, so too those who are vindicated on the basis of the cross of Christ and his atonement for sinners (Rom. 3:21-26) have also been made righteous by God's gracious work (cf. Rom. 14:17). God's forensic declaration is effective because the Lord who was crucified on behalf of sinners was also raised from the dead (Rom. 4:25), and thus sinners live in a new way (Rom. 6:4)."

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Reading Paul with Michael Gorman 11

Michael J. Gorman is the professor of Sacred Scripture and Dean of the Ecumenical Institute of Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary & University in Baltimore, Maryland. He has spent much of his career studying, writing about and teaching Paul. He has a unique 'perspective' on Paul and as you read him you will find that he is neither 'old' or 'new' perspective but takes from the best of both worlds. So far I have found his small introduction to Paul to be a very edifying read and here I will offer brief summaries and reflections of his book 'Reading Paul' published by Cascade. Today we are looking at chapter 11.

Conformed to the Image of God's Son

In this chapter Gorman covers the topic of holiness in terms of cruciformity. By this he is referring to "conformity to the crucified Christ" (p.146).

Gorman offers us a fuller explanation: "Cruciformity is cross-shaped existence in Christ. It is letting the cross be the shape, as well as the source, of life in Christ. It is participating in and embodying the cross. It may also be described, more technically, as non-identical repetition, by the power of the Spirit, of the narrative of Christ's self-giving faith and love that was quintessentially expressed in his incarnation and death on the cross" (pp.146-7). The new life that we are raised to takes the form of the cross.

This life looks back at the work of Christ and ahead when Christ will return to fully establish his kingdom. "This means that the experience of dying and rising carries forward from baptism into daily life; each day, each moment becomes an occasion for expressing the resurrection power of God through cross-shaped decisions and actions" (p. 148). Christians should not be power seekers like the world but should have the mind of Christ, seeing power in weakness. Gorman makes the important point that cruciformity is not primarily about suffering, however, but loyalty; this loyalty often results in suffering. They can face this suffering with joy knowing that "shame gives way to honor in the economy of God" (p. 151).

Gorman goes on to discuss three aspects of of this cruciform existence: Faith, hope and love. He includes the ideas of trust and intellectual assent in his definition of faith but goes beyond them as well. Faith can also be seen as something like a pledge of allegiance and is an ongoing reality in the life of the believer. Jesus himself displayed this sort of faith. "Jesus is thus the ultimate paradigm of Christian faith, exemplifying its covenantal significance as trusting obedience, even to the point of death" (p. 155). He even goes beyond these ideas by showing that to have faith is to share in the faithfulness of Jesus (his death and resurrection).

Like faith, Gorman sees "love" as a verb. "Love acts patiently, love does kindness...Like faith, then, for Paul love is an action-word, a covenantal term that describes the fundamental relationship that should exist among God's people and from God's people toward others" (p. 156). Believers are to love just as Christ loved by not acting for selfish gain but for the good of others.

Hope, for Paul, is a "future oriented word". "We might therefore say that hope is the future tense of faith" (p. 160). The gospel itself has a future dimension and hope is the confidence that God will do what he said based on his actions in the past. We can, therefore, count on God's promises, be patient in the present and boast in our sufferings. Hope is grounded in the resurrection of Christ.

"Paul's triad of faith, hope, and love challenges us to the core, calling us to align our loyalties, our dreams, and our affections with the gospel of God, the lordship of Jesus, and the countercultural activity of the Spirit" (p. 163).

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

God's Grand Plan and the Atonement

I have been reading Graham Cole's excellent book on the atonement. What I like about this book is that atonement doesn't become simply about "me and my salvation" but takes place within God's grand plan to bring shalom to his ruptured creation. He does this without minimizing the cross at all but places it in its proper context. Here is a quote from his introduction that shows what he is trying to get at:

"This broader perspective reckons with God's grand plan to restore the created order, and places the story of Jesus, his cross, and empty tomb within it. Thus this work takes the broad approach but hopefully not in a way that masks 'the cruciality of the cross'...The grand goal of the divine comedy is nothing less than to secure God's people in God's place under God's reign living God's way enjoying God's shalom in God's loving and holy presence as both family and worshipers, to God's glory" (p. 25)

In other words, the cross only makes sense when it is place in the context of God's saving reign. By the way, this book was edited and endorsed by D.A. Carson.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Reading Paul with Michael Gorman 10

Michael J. Gorman is the professor of Sacred Scripture and Dean of the Ecumenical Institute of Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary & University in Baltimore, Maryland. He has spent much of his career studying, writing about and teaching Paul. He has a unique 'perspective' on Paul and as you read him you will find that he is neither 'old' or 'new' perspective but takes from the best of both worlds. So far I have found his small introduction to Paul to be a very edifying read and here I will offer brief summaries and reflections of his book 'Reading Paul' published by Cascade. Today we are looking at chapter 10.

Called to be Saints

In this chapter Gorman tackles the topic of the church. Paul often refers to the various communities he writes to as 'saints' or 'holy ones'. "What Paul has in mind is a group of diverse people who have been apprehended by the resurrection crucified Messiah - justified, crucified, occupied - and who live together as a distinctive, even counter-cultural, community in him" (p. 132). He then discusses the background to Paul's understanding of the church (ekklesia): "The first is the assembly...of Israel...The second the assembly...of the Greco-Roman city...On the one hand, it designates the assembly of believers who affirm Jesus as Lord and constitute the renewed 'Israel of God' (Gal 6:16). On the other hand, this assembly exists as an alternative [church] and even an alternative [city]..." (p. 133). The church is God's holy people who reflect his character through the Son.

Gorman then discusses some of the images that are used of the church: body of Christ, temple, and the family of God. These various images give an idea of the purpose of the church in meeting together: "First of all, the assembly meets to worship God...Secondly, the assembly also meets to speak to one another" (p. 138). What is the content of this worship and speech? "Both in speech from and speech to God, and in speech to one another, the assembly especially recites its foundational stories and considers how they can best embody those stories in their life together in the world" (p. 138). These stories focus on the incarnated, crucified and exalted Messiah and were also enacted in events like baptism, the Lord's Supper and cruciform justice within the assembly and the wider world.

The church is marked by holiness which is a fruit of the Spirit. "All Christian existence is charismatic existence" (p. 140). The Spirit bring life and holiness to God's people and makes it possible to live in covenant with God. "The Spirit is thus the personal, animating power and presence of God - the One who guides and molds the the power of the resurrection...[which] manifests itself in the shape of the cross of Jesus the Lord" (p. 141). The Spirit creates unity among God's people by equipping them with diverse gifts. This unification also takes place alongside sanctification. If there are people in the assembly "who persist in practices that violate the gospel" they must be "dismissed from the assembly for the good of the community as well as the individual..." (p. 142). "Nonetheless, the church must learn to deal with controversial issues" (p. 143).

"Walking in the Spirit, then, is another way of saying that we participate already, between the first and second coming, in the new creation God has begun in Christ" (p. 143).

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Interview with Michael Gorman

Michael Gorman is professor of Sacred Scripture and Dean of the Ecumenical Institute of Theology at St. Mary's Seminary & University in Baltimore, Maryland; he as authored numerous books including Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul and His Letters (Eerdmans, 2004), Reading Paul (Cascade, 2008), and Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology (Eerdmans, 2009). Dr. Gorman graciously answered some questions regarding Paul and his views on justification.

1. Can you tell us, briefly, about when and how you became a Christian?

I became a Christian through a United Methodist youth group in my town when I was 15. It was the verbal and life-witness of friends who brought me to faith, though the initial moment of conversion was at what we used to call a “youth rally.” The experience almost made me a lifelong Calvinist, however (I’m a Methodist, but I was a Presbyterian for 10 years), since I feel like I was called and transformed without much if any conscious volitional act on my part. This is jumping ahead, but I think Tom Wright would appreciate that understanding of call/conversion very much. I do, too, obviously, yet I don’t think it conflicts with the interpretation of justification in Paul that I have offered.

2. Paul can sometimes seem very intimidating to Christians. Where is a good place to start reading Paul (i.e. his own letters, other resources, etc.)?

A great place to start reading Paul is with a very brief letter like Philippians and/or a very practical and relevant one like 1 Corinthians. Ephesians is also a good starting place, in spite of some people’s reservations about authorship. As for secondary sources, I tend to recommend my own Reading Paul and Tom Wright’s What St. Paul Really Said. Mike Bird’s little book (Paul: A Bird’s Eye View) is also good.

3. When did you first develop an interest in studying Paul?

My interest in Paul developed in seminary at Princeton in the early 1980s, when there were a number of fine Pauline scholars teaching, including the late J. Christiaan Beker, Paul Meyer, and Martin De Boer. They all influenced me profoundly, but it was a course in NT Ethics with the late Cullen Story that got me interested in Pauline ethics, which led to my PhD. dissertation, also at Princeton, under Meyer and then De Boer. The thesis of that work became the basis of everything I’ve done on Paul ever since.

4. For many Christians when they think of Jesus they think of things like "love, mercy, compassion, etc" and when they think of Paul "doctrine, justification, and sometimes division." Is that a fair representation of Paul (and Jesus for that matter)?

Interesting question! I think that both Jesus and Paul were agents of God’s inauguration of the new age (in very different ways, of course—only Jesus died and was raised to make it happen), which Jesus usually called the Reign of God and Paul understood as the Lordship of Jesus. Both were about the business of creating a new community of people who embodied the covenant loyalty and love expected in the Scriptures but made possible only by the advent of the Spirit. “Love, mercy, compassion” are traits of God that both Jesus and Paul understood, taught, and practiced, but they also each knew that God calls and forms a holy covenant people. Paul’s “doctrines” are all very practical and pastoral, not just ideas to be thought about. Justification is about resurrection from the dead, sort of like the parable of the prodigal son. Division? Jesus said, “I came not to bring peace but a sword.” Sounds pretty divisive! In other words, while I see differences between Jesus and Paul (one is Lord, one is not), they are not the ones people often point to. Bonhoeffer is helpful here: (The Cost of) Discipleship is in many respects a book about the similarities between Jesus and Paul.

5. In your book "Reading Paul" you offer an amazing one sentence summary of Paul. Let's see if you can go even shorter. How would you summarize Paul in a twitter (140 characters)?

Jesus is God’s crucified and resurrected Messiah and Lord whose Spirit creates communities of cruciform faith, hope, and love in anticipation of final salvation.

(That’s 138.)

6. There is a lot of discussion today about what the gospel actually is. Some people focus on the kingdom, some on justification, some on both. Can you tell us what the gospel is according to Paul in a nutshell (something that is easy to memorize)?

That’s a tough one. Why not memorize 1 Cor 15:3ff? But the previous answer would not be a bad paraphrase.

7. Why is it so important that we see the writings of Paul rooted in his Jewish heritage?

Paul simply cannot be understood apart from his self-understanding as the agent of the God revealed in the Jewish Scriptures and the Jewish Messiah.

8. Paul seems to talk a lot about "righteousness". What does it mean that God is righteous and how does it relate to Christians today?

Righteousness, or justice, is a fairly all-encompassing term about the unique character of God as morally different from humanity (“holy”), good, faithful to covenant, and both willing and able to save. Throughout the Scriptures, the righteous God calls a people to share in the divine righteousness. Participation in Christ’s death and resurrection makes that possible. For us today, that means lots of things, but above all that by the power of the Spirit we begin to share in God’s loyal and loving character revealed in Christ. Or, as I have said with respect to holiness in Paul, “You shall be cruciform for I am cruciform” (God speaking).

9. There is a lot of talk today about the doctrine of justification. When most people think about this doctrine they think of a forensic declaration. Can you comment on what justification is and what is good/not so good about the traditional understanding?

Let me quote from Reading Paul: “Justification is the establishment of right covenantal relations—fidelity to God and love for neighbor—by means of God’s grace in Christ’s death and our co-crucifixion with him. Justification therefore means co-resurrection with Christ to new life within the people of God now and the certain hope of acquittal, and thus resurrection to eternal life, on the day of judgment.” Somewhere else in the book I write, “Whatever else justification means, it means participation in the life of this one God of the covenant who reigns supreme and deserves our loyalty.” In Inhabiting the Cruciform God, therefore, I argue that justification is theosis (defined below).

There is more than one “traditional understanding” of justification, but my biggest objection to most of them is that they privilege the law court metaphor and make it into a narrowly defined doctrine of individual declaration and acquittal. How one can read Gal 2:15-20 and limit justification to that idea is rather mind-boggling. There, justification is about membership in the community (new perspective) and also about participation in Christ as a death-to-life reality. And even Abraham, the proof-text paradigm of justification, is presented in Romans 4 as one whose justification meant resurrection from the dead. Fortunately, most theologians and even many traditional interpreters of justification in Paul are seeing a close connection between justification and participation than in the past. (See, for example, my quote from Tom below.)

10. How are justification and resurrection related?

Well, the previous answer gives some of my perspective, but I would also add that justification is connected to life, and life for Paul comes, paradoxically, only through death—Christ’s and ours. Justification is new life—resurrection from death to life by sharing in the death and resurrection of Christ.

11. In a recent interview N.T. Wright stated that your work has been very influential on his as he is writing his new book on Paul. In what ways do you hope to see Wright "change/tweak" his views on justification in light of your work?

First, I am flattered that Tom would say that. We have talked and corresponded and listened to each other’s papers and read each other’s work quite a bit over the last decade. In his book Justification, he rightly says that “the notion of ‘being in Christ’ which Paul develops in these chapters [Romans 6-8] is rooted in, and fully dovetails with, the doctrine of justification. It is not the case, in other words, that one has to choose between ‘justification by faith’ and ‘being in Christ’ as the ‘centre’ of Paul’s thought. This is so close to my interpretation of Paul that I would be very happy if Tom consistently said and unpacked this. But sometimes he reverts to more traditional language, over-emphasizing the law court metaphor (though less individualistically than most) of “declaration” (in the covenant community”) and even using the language of imputation (as in his IVP lecture when the book came out). Somewhere in Justification he speaks of Christ’s death and resurrection being “reckoned” to us, based on Romans 6. I find this deeply problematic. Christ’s death and resurrection is the reality in which we participate; it is not something reckoned to us.

So… I guess I hope Tom will begin using participationist categories and language to describe justification, or do so more consistently.

12. You frequently use the term theosis and I know that sometimes people can have a hard time with it. What do you mean by it?

Here’s my definition, which is what I mean by it with reference to Paul, from Inhabiting the Cruciform God:

Theosis is transformative participation in the kenotic, cruciform character of God through Spirit-enabled conformity to the incarnate, crucified, and resurrected/glorified Christ.

Theosis means becoming like God. I know that some people object to the language of theosis. I am less concerned about that specific word than I am the content of the definition. The patristic theological claim was that “He became what we were so that we might become what he is.” This is much more central to Paul than most interpreters have recognized. It’s a good summary of some key Pauline texts. Bonhoeffer is again helpful here. The conclusion of Discipleship is such an interpretation of Paul, and I refer to it at some length in the end of Inhabiting.

13. Do you have any other "Paul projects" in the works?

I will be giving the Lund Lectures at North Park Seminary in September on the theme of “Re-Imagining Justification,” and that is, God willing, part of a larger project with (probably) the same name. I also have a book on Pauline spirituality for ministry somewhere in production. But first I need to finish my book on Revelation—in less than two months!

Thank you Dr. Gorman for taking the time to answer all these questions!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Reading Paul with Michael Gorman 9

Michael J. Gorman is the professor of Sacred Scripture and Dean of the Ecumenical Institute of Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary & University in Baltimore, Maryland. He has spent much of his career studying, writing about and teaching Paul. He has a unique 'perspective' on Paul and as you read him you will find that he is neither 'old' or 'new' perspective but takes from the best of both worlds. So far I have found his small introduction to Paul to be a very edifying read and here I will offer brief summaries and reflections of his book 'Reading Paul' published by Cascade. Today we are looking at chapter 9.

Justified by Faith...Crucified with Christ

Gorman believes that we need to have a 'thick' doctrine of justification; he believes that too often the church has settled for cheap grace: justification without transformation.

According to Gorman, the streams of thought that Paul's doctrine of justification stem from are (see pgs. 114-15):

- the conviction that the God of the covenant is just/righteous;

- the corollary expectation that God's covenant people will be just/righteous;

- the conviction that God's righteousness expresses itself in salvific, transformative action for the covenant people and for all creation;

- the image of the just/righteous God judging the people, like a judge in a courtroom, both now and on the future day of judgment; and

- the vindication of the just/righteous on that day

Gorman notes that the most popular stream of thought places almost all the emphasis on the law-court imagery. The rise of the new perspective has pointed out that justification has to do with covenant membership in the people of God. Gorman offers a definition of justification that takes from the best of both worlds and more (see pgs. 116-17):

"Justification is the establishment of right covenant relations - fidelity to God and love for neighbor - by means of God's grace in Christ's death and our co-crucifixion with him. Justification therefore means co-resurrection with Christ to new life within the people of God now and the certain hope of acquittal, and thus resurrection to eternal life, on the day of judgment."

"Justification, then, is about reconciliation, covenant, community, resurrection, and life."

Gorman shows that justification and reconciliation belong together through Rom. 5.1-11. He says that the two are actually one and, therefore, views that limit justification to a divine declaration are inadequate. Justification is a sort of resurrection from the dead and are related to covenant and life. Gorman also comments that God's way of setting people right is different that the violent form of justice found in Rome and Phineas ways of justification (which is also justification by self). Those whom God justifies, however, cannot help but be transformed by God's alternative way of justice.

Gorman also offers a robust definition of "faith". While not denying the fact that faith means "trust" he also points out that faith needs to be seen as "loyalty". It is like a "pledge of allegiance." It also has to do with our participation in Christ: "Paul sees faith as sharing in the death of Jesus that is so real, so vivid, that it can be described as being crucified with Christ, or co-crucified" (p. 124). This co-crucifixion is not "a matter of human effort". Not only do we die with Christ but we are raised with him. Christ was "raised for our justification" and we are enabled to live in right covenant relations with God in the present. We are made alive to God. At the same time, the resurrected Christ lives in the believer through his Spirit. This is a corporate reality and not just an individual one. The purpose of the indwelling is to enable God's people to live in right covenant relationship with him and with others (i.e. new life). This new life takes a cruciform shape.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Saving Righteousness of God 5

Michael Bird has quickly become one of my favorite theologians. When you read him it is obvious that he loves truth and desires unity within the church. I am currently reading his book The Saving Righteousness of God: Studies on Paul, Justification, and the New Perspective (Wipf and Stock, 2007). Today I will be taking a look at chapter 4.

Incorporated Righteousness

The doctrine of imputation is a touchy subject as is evident from the debates that have taken place over centuries. The debates have arisen again in recent days due to the rise of the 'New Perspective on Paul'.

Bird begins the chapter by providing a short history of the doctrine. It is interesting, as Bird points out, that imputation was not as central to justification to some among the reformers. It is easy to assume that there is one view that all the 'reformers' ascribed to. Nevertheless, many in the reformed camp have seen imputation as the defining mark of justification and protestant theology. Bird even refers to it as the 'boundary marker' to distinguish between Protestants and Catholics. Even more recently proponents of the New Perspective and some Evangelicals have questioned the validity of the imputation of Christ's righteousness. Mark Seifrid, in particular, has pointed out that talking about imputation can sometimes detract from Paul's Christ-centered theology. He says that it is better to talk about our righteousness being found in Christ, crucified and risen.

Bird then goes on to clarify the debate. He refuses to label all those who refuse to use the language of imputation as legalistic since this is an over-simplistic way of looking at the debate; he also refuses to side with those who consider a denial of imputation a denial of the gospel. "To equate the gospel as consisting of the doctrine of imputed righteousness makes about as much sense as saying that the gospel is the pre-tribulation rapture" (p. 69). He reminds us that the language of imputation is not explicitly found in the New Testament but that it is an appropriate way of restating the forensic nature of justification. Bird will now set out to show is that believers are righteous because they are incorporated in Christ.

Bird looks at some of the key texts which are used to demonstrate imputed righteousness. At the end of the day he says that the usual texts never come out and explicitly teach imputation. Rather, believer's are righteous by virtue of their union with Christ in his death and resurrection. The resurrection was Christ's vindication and it is in this that believer's share by faith. The righteousness that they possess is a result of being united to "the Righteous One." Of particular interest in this section was his discussion of the debate between Piper and Garlington on the word Logizomai.

Bird says that it makes much more sense to speak of incorporated righteousness since imputed righteousness can give the idea that righteousness is somehow abstracted from Christ and given to the believer. Incorporated righteousness has to do with union with Christ and cannot be separated from the Savior himself.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Saving Righteousness of God 4

Michael Bird has quickly become one of my favorite theologians. When you read him it is obvious that he loves truth and desires unity within the church. I am currently reading his book The Saving Righteousness of God: Studies on Paul, Justification, and the New Perspective (Wipf and Stock, 2007). Today I will be taking a look at chapter 3.

Raised for Our Justification

In this chapter Bird is examining the relationship between resurrection and justification. He laments the fact that most of the time the resurrection is nothing more than God's approval of the work of the cross. (To me the equivalent of this would be to limit the cross work to God's disapproval of violence. Sure it's there, and it's important, but that by no means exhausts its meaning.)

Bird goes on the highlight some attempts that have been made to link resurrection to justification. He begins with Walter Kunneth. He believes that in the cross God dealt with sin and death and he overcomes them with new life in the resurrection. At the same time he closely links the verdict that arises from the righteousness added to the believer and the righteousness within the believer. Bird says that this actually detracts from his thesis because although justification and sanctification arise from union with Christ one cannot be subsumed under the other. Markus Barth grounds the believer's justification in both the death and resurrection of Jesus. He says that Christ's resurrection was the justification of God, Christ, and the sinner. According to Richard Gaffin the resurrection removes the sentence of death and the verdict of condemnation over believers. The resurrection is the justification of Christ and believers participate in that verdict. Mark Seifrid says that the gospel centers on the resurrection of Christ. "Christ's death and resurrection contain a verdict - condemnation and vindication...The death and resurrection of Christ is God's verdict against the ungodly, and simultaneously his vindication of them" (p. 47-8).

Next Bird shows how justification and resurrection are connected in three Pauline passages. In 1 Corinthians 15:17 Paul says that without the resurrection there would be no forgiveness of sins; in other words, the cross has no atoning significance without the resurrection. In Romans 1-5 the gospel that Paul proclaims has life as its goal; in Jewish thought vindication and life were linked in that vivification was the evidence that one had been justified. Rom 4.25 is an important text for Bird as he sees it as demonstrating that justification is actually caused by the resurrection. In the death of Christ God's wrath is propitiated and in the resurrection God's declaration of vindication is enacted. Lastly, Bird examines 1 Timothy 3.16; quoting N.T. Wright he says, "It is likely that 'he was justified' is an oblique way of referring to the resurrection: Jesus was 'vindicated' by the living God - not least as Messiah - after being condemned and killed" (p.54). The eschatological verdict had taken place in Christ and believer's can participate in that verdict.

Bird briefly looks at the theme of resurrection and the final judgment. Just as our present verdict of justification is based on the resurrection so is the verdict on the final day.

Bird has done the church a great favor in writing this chapter. We would do well to make the connection between justification and resurrection. Resurrection is not merely a proof that the cross was effective but actually causes our justification before God.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Saving Righteousness of God 3

Michael Bird has quickly become one of my favorite theologians. When you read him it is obvious that he loves truth and desires unity within the church. I am currently reading his book The Saving Righteousness of God: Studies on Paul, Justification, and the New Perspective (Wipf and Stock, 2007). Today I will be taking a look at the second half of chapter 2.

The second half of this chapter looks like it's going to be a little bit more complex. I'll give it a shot though. Bird begins by discussing Jewish particularism and righteousness. If you have had any exposure to the work of the New Perspective (especially N.T. Wright) you would know that it is popular to define 'righteousness' as 'covenant membership'. Bird sees the importance of the sociological dimensions of righteousness but think that it cannot be limited to covenant membership.

According to Bird the reformers did recognize the corporate dimension of justification but this was lost later on in Lutheran and Reformed dogmatics. The emphasis became the salvation of the individual. This began to change with the rise of biblical theology as a separate discipline from dogmatics. More people sought to understand Paul in his historical setting. F.C. Baur was one who saw justification in traditional categories yet saw Galatians as Paul refuting the errors of Jewish Christians and Romans as Paul's attempt to deal with Jewish 'particularistic' tendencies. Wrede and Schweitzer agreed with Baur that "justification was formulated in response to the Judaizing crisis but disagreed that 'righteousness' by faith was the center of Paul's theology" (p.20). For W.D. Davis the Torah was Israel's way of remaining separate from the pagan world. For Paul, however, it was not being "in Israel" that mattered but being "in Christ". Christ, instead of Torah, was the center of Paul's life. Munck believed that Paul's focus was on the fact that God had an ordained plan for the gentiles in salvation-history which was to prompt the Jewish people to find eschatological salvation in Christ.

So why does Bird take us on this little journey through biblical scholarship? He is showing us that there was rising concern in biblical studies that Paul wasn't just dealing with the question of how individuals are saved and was dealing with problems of Jewish exclusivity. However, at this point no one ever really made the explicit link that justification was the solution to particularism.

This paved the way for Krister Stendahl to give a more explicit link between 'righteousness' and the inclusion of Gentiles. E.P. Sanders built on this work but emphasizes 'covenant'. The problem he saw with Judaism is that is was not Christianity. It was a matter of eschatology. In come N.T. Wright and James Dunn. They agreed that Judaism was not a legalistic religion but Paul's problem with Judaism is that it was too nationalistic. Justification is about covenant membership apart from the works that marked out the Jewish people. Although Dunn and Wright do not totally exclude the soteriological dimensions of justification some have done so. From Baur on the dividing line seems to be those who root the framework of Paul's thought in apocalypticism and those who root it in salvation-history. Bird offers a view that puts these two together. "The covenantal horizon means that we cannot lose sight of the question of who are God's people and how are they marked out as they await their final vindication. Similarly the apocalyptic horizon demands that the coming act of salvation spells out liberation from sin, death, and evil as well as the rectification of sinners and transgressors. The question that confronts us is: who are the people of God and in what economy shall they be vindicated?" (p. 32). It seems that Bird's aim is to put and end to those who drive a wedge between the soteriological and social dimensions of justification.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Saving RIghteousness of God 2

Michael Bird has quickly become one of my favorite theologians. When you read him it is obvious that he loves truth and desires unity within the church. I am currently reading his book The Saving Righteousness of God: Studies on Paul, Justification, and the New Perspective (Wipf and Stock, 2007). Today I will be taking a look at the first half of chapter 2.

In the second chatper Bird enters into the ring of debates that surround the word 'righteousness'. He helpfully points out that we should speak of the doctrine of 'righteousness' rather than 'justification'.

In discussing the long-standing debate between Protestants and Catholics between imputed righteousness and imparted righteousness he says that both groups fall under criticism. When Catholics point to imputed righteousness as a 'legal fiction' they misunderstand that the ground of justification are very much real, namely, the death and resurrection of Jesus. Protestants on the other hand (and I imagine Bird saying this with a smirk on his face) need to keep in mind that the only time that the New Testament uses the phrase 'faith alone' is in James (the book that Luther didn't think belonged in the NT I might add) where he is discussing that faith without works is dead. He also wonders aloud (or in writ) whether or not it really matters whether we refer to imputed righteousness or imparted righteousness if we are speaking in forensic terms.

As I have said before, I am am no scholar. So at this point I got a little lost in the discussion of whether or not righteousness is relational or the adherence to a norm. After a short discussion that went right over my head Bird concludes that one does not have to choose between these two options. God relates to his people through the covenant and that provides the norm to which one must adhere to (I think that's what he says). Nice!

Bird then discusses whether righteousness is forensic or transformative. When it comes to 'the righteousness of God' he sees it as almost synonymous to his saving power. Thus, he goes for the 'subjective genitive'. He notes that in some places 'righteousness' does not refer to the action of God itself but the basis of that action. For Bird righteousness is the basis for all of God's saving acts, not just justification. When it comes to the word which means "to justify" Bird sees it as forensic. However, this doesn't mean that one can be justified and live an 'un-transformed' life. God gives the justified his Spirit so that they can live consistent lives of righteousness.

Next Bird discusses the concept of 'covenant' and how it relates to righteousness but I think I'm going to go watch TV with my bride. Until tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Saving Righteousness of God 1

Michael Bird has quickly become one of my favorite theologians. When you read him it is obvious that he loves truth and desires unity within the church. I am currently reading his book The Saving Righteousness of God: Studies on Paul, Justification, and the New Perspective (Wipf and Stock, 2007). Today I will be taking a brief look at the introduction.


Wrestling with Paul

Bird begins the book by giving an overview of his journey with Paul. His goal in this project is the unity of the church. Bird comes from a reformed background (and he has not abandoned his past) and has thoroughly examined the so-called "new perspective on Paul". His conviction is that the two are not mutually exclusive but actually belong together. Both sides can learn from one another.

One thing that is very exciting about Bird's writings is that he has spent so much time studying the relationship between the resurrection of Jesus and our justification. Many people have seen these as virtually unrelated. Resurrection is just a sign that the cross work of Jesus was effective; the resurrection, for them, has no real saving significance of its own.

Bird has also spent a considerable amount of time mulling over the New Perspective on Paul (just see his extensive bibliography). He appreciates many aspects of the NPP but he doesn't remain uncritical of it. As he says he hasn't caught the "NPP bug" in any considerable way.

Of particular interest to some of the reformed fold will be his discussions on 'imputation'. Bird suggests a different term, namely, 'incorporated righteousness'. It is great to see, also, that he appreciates the 'social' dimensions of justification that proponents of the NPP point out but he shuns the attempt to squeeze all 'justification' language into social categories. For Bird, in other words, justification is both vertical and horizontal (though, predominantly vertical). "Justification is the act whereby God creates a new people, with a new status, in a new covenant, as a foretaste of the new age" (p. 4). Well put.

What Saint Paul Really Said 13

This year as I focus my reading on the Apostle Paul I am seeking to understand better the writings of N.T. Wright. So I am doing a chapter-by-chapter summary of his book, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997). Today we are looking at chapter 10.

Paul, Jesus and Christians Origins

Did Paul invent the Christianity that we know today? This is the question that Wright seeks to answer in this final chapter. He points to the author 'A.N. Wilson' as one who answers in the affirmative. For Wilson, Paul had departed from the Jesus of history and made him into a presence of divine love which had universal appeal. Wilson practically reinvents Paul altogether. He claims that he was a collaborator with Rome and developed his religion from paganism. Paul believed, according to Wilson, that the end of the world was imminent and his job was to get as many people as possible follow this new religion before it happened.

Problems with the Portrait

Although some of Wilson's points can be appreciated the bulk of what he says is questionable.

Saul's Background

Wilson believes that since Paul had to seek the authority of the chief priests for his 'persecuting mission in Damascus' that he was a collaborator with Rome. However, Paul was a zealous Shammite Pharisee who had no authority of his own (and had to seek it from the high priests) to act in this way. "The author of Galatians 1 and Philippians 3 would have laughed a long, hollow laugh at the thought of being a collaborator, in the pay of the high priests."

Judaism and Hellenism

Wilson sees Judaism as some sort of 'tribe' religion and Hellenism as the 'universal' religion, the one that everyone knew. So, he claims, Paul took the message of Jesus and transformed it from a Jewish one to a Hellenistic one that would would be 'relevant' to all.

The world, however, does not need a non-Jewish message. The creator God had chosen the Israel as the way of dealing with sin and evil in the world. As Wright says in a later book, this is God's message that is through-Israel-for-the-world.

The way Wright sees it, all attempts to show that Paul derived his message from paganism have revealed themselves to be failures.

Cross and Resurrection

According to Wright, Wilson has failed to grasp the significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus. These events fulfilled God's ancient purposes for the world; they were not a "matter of mystical speculation."

Wilson's portrait of Paul leaves no room for the bodily resurrection of Jesus. This was not an event to look back on but one to look forward to. For Paul, however, the resurrection of Jesus was the great eschatological event that caused all of God's ancient promises to come true. Paul was living in the first days of God's new world order.

Paul's view of the cross and resurrection were rooted in Judaism. Wilson, on the other hand, starts with Hellenism and causes "the picture to fall apart." Wilson claims that Paul's view of the cross is incomprehensible. However, when it is rooted in the Jewish scriptures, the cross was the moment when God's (representative) Messiah dealt with sin and death. Paul understood these events in a Jewish context.

Wilson tries to hang on to the eschatological dimension of Paul; this, however, makes no sense in Hellenistic mystery religion. For Paul, the cross and resurrection were the events that inaugerated the Age to Come and God would one day complete the work he began.

Jesus and God

Wilson supposes that any attempt to place Jesus and God side by side is dabbling in paganism. But according to Wright, the passages which do place Jesus and God side by side are strong statements of Jewish monotheism with Jesus placed firmly in the middle of it. Ironically, it is went Paul is opposing(not standing with) paganism that he makes these statements.

A Distorting Image

Wilson's portrait of Paul fails on the historical, theological and exegetical level. He not understood that Paul believed that through Christ God what fulfilling his ancient covenant that he had made with Abraham. Wilson does not make much of application either yet he retains the sense that there is something great Paul's writings.

Wright then seeks to answer the question, "what is the relation between Paul, Jesus and the origins of Christianity?"

From Jesus to Paul - and Beyond

The answer to that question relies on what one thinks of Jesus. Neither Jesus or Paul was preaching a timeless message about how people could be saved but believed that they were participating in the fulfillment of God's ancient promises. Jesus and Paul cannot be pitted against each other but must be seen as playing a role within God's drama.

Jesus was the one through whom God would accomplish his purposes to Israel. He announced that God's kingdom was arriving, even though it didn't look like what many had expected. Through his work Israel's God would liberate his people and bring salvation to the world. Through his actions, Jesus embodied YHWH's return to Zion as judge and redeemer. He believed that he would die in obedience to the will of God and that he would be vindicated by being raised from the dead before the final day. All this makes perfect sense within the world of first-century Judaism.

When we look at Paul we cannot look for a mere parallel to Jesus but continuity. Paul believed that he was called to proclaim to the world that Israel's God has brought his saving plan to it's climax in Jesus. He was calling people to give allegiance to the world's true Lord. For Paul and Jesus it was not a matter of 'mere religion' but showing people what it meant to be truly human, to experience life.

There is coherence between Paul and Jesus. "Jesus was bringing Israel's history to its climax; Paul was living in light of that climax." This is what matters. God had acted in Christ to fulfill his saving promises and inaugurate the kingdom.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Jesus is Lord IS Good News

Jason Hood has an excellent post where he critique's the idea that "Jesus is Lord" is not gospel:

"Michael Horton, for instance, is critical of the idea of featuring a gospel proclamation of, “Jesus is Lord”: “There are many passages in the Bible that teach us that ‘Jesus is Lord’ is not in fact good news.” A statement like this can be found in interviews with Horton on the web; he particularly goes after N. T. Wright. Greg Gilbert of IX Marks Ministries recently published a small, readable book on the definition of the gospel.

“[T]o simply say that ‘Jesus is Lord’ is really not good news at all if we don’t explain how Jesus is not just Lord but also Savior. Lordship implies the right to judge, and we’ve already seen that God intends to judge evil. Therefore, to a sinner in rebellion against God and against his Messiah, the proclamation that Jesus has become Lord is terrible news.” What is the Gospel?, 105.

This is not untrue, but we must be careful not to push Jesus’ lordship to the margins of gospel definition. Gilbert actually risks doing just that when he titles the section just quoted, “Jesus is Lord Is Not the Gospel.” There are two problems, as I see it, with that language.

(1) By saying “Jesus is Lord is not good news” on the basis of Gilbert’s logic that Jesus’s lordship is not universally good news, we run the danger of making our definition of gospel subjective. God’s gospel is always the gospel, whether I find it to be good news or not.

Many of the people who heard the good news preached by Isaiah, the Psalmist and the Israelite women, John the Baptist, Jesus, Paul, and on through church history, did not find it to be good news, either because they rejected it, or because it was too good to be true, or because they were in crummy moods and stuck on their earthly circumstances. But the good news was of course still good news.

(2) My hope is that these brothers do not mean that we are to limit “gospel” to a description of salvation apart from Jesus’ lordship. But some do. And a phrase like “Jesus is lord is not the gospel” runs the risk of picking and choosing what parts of the gospel you’ll take, and which you’ll leave off.

We cannot really substitute “Jesus is Lord” with “Jesus is Savior,” “Jesus redeems,” or “Jesus saves.” Many passages teach that those who reject his lordship in word and deed will prove to have been saying “Jesus saves” in vain. So even “Jesus saves” is not always good news, in the sense that it is terrible news for those who reject him and his lordship. But the Gospel is still the Good News.

Picking up on Gilbert’s title (which is just one glitch, I think, in an otherwise helpful book): in the sense that “Jesus is Lord is not the Gospel” (because it’s not the whole story), “Jesus saves” is not the gospel, either. But phrasing it that way is unhelpful and misleading!"

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The King's Catechism 1

In an effort to 'know the truth' better I have decided that I will try to construct a catechism. I really have no idea how to do this but I figure I'll give it a shot. I will be looking at other catechisms and base mine loosely on those. I am not sure how long it will be as I am really just doing this as a devotional exercise (as long as it is helpful I suppose). Here are the questions and answers for week 1 (If you have any other scriptural references to suggest then feel free to suggest them. Most of mine will be from the writings of Paul as I have been focusing my reading on his letters this year.).

1. Q. What is your only hope of salvation?
A. The Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Rom. 1.16-17; 10.9

2. Q. What is this gospel?
A. Jesus is the Messiah of Israel, the one who was promised in the scriptures; he was put to death by the principalities and powers but God raised him and seated him at his right hand as Lord of the world. Thus, God’s new world order has begun. Through his shameful death God has been victorious because now our sins can be forgiven, the very means by which we can be liberated from this present evil age. This Jesus will return again to judge the living and the dead and bring times of refreshing for all those who belong to him.
Rom 1.2-4; 2 Tim 2.8; 1 Cor. 15.1-5; Gal. 1.4; Col. 2.13-15; Acts 2.23, 36; 28.30-31

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What Saint Paul Really Said 12

This year as I focus my reading on the Apostle Paul I am seeking to understand better the writings of N.T. Wright. So I am doing a chapter-by-chapter summary of his book, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997). Today we are looking at chapter 9.

Paul's Gospel Then and Now

Wright starts off the chapter by stressing the importance of understanding Paul on his own terms and not projecting our own thoughts, and systems of thought, on to him. He demonstrates what sort of damage this can do by using a couple examples. We should try to see what it is that Paul is actually saying then, "take the exciting risk of trying to think through ways in which what he actually says may have something to say today and tomorrow." Wright applies this to three areas:

1) The Gospel: For Wright the heart of the gospel is that Jesus is Lord of the cosmos. He suggests that when we do this the dichotomy between announcing the gospel and 'social action' disappears. "Unless we are prepared to contradict ourselves with every breath we take, we cannot make the announcement without seeking to bring that lordship toe bear over every aspect of the world."

2) Justification: "The gospel creates, not a bunch of individual Christians, but a community." For Wright this doctrine should promote more unity than it does division. He uses Galatians 2 as his 'proof'. He emphasizes believing in Jesus over being in exact agreement over what justification means. Wright also emphasizes that holiness is the appropriate behavior of the justified and that the unity that this doctrine brings to Jew and Gentile shows the 'powers' that their time is up.

3) The Redefinition of 'God: Wright points out that people have differing views of God. When people say they believe in God it is not obvious which God they mean. Christians ought to bring the good news that there is a loving God who is active within history who is made known through Jesus and his Spirit. Christians cannot take the word 'God' for granted. Also, if God's ultimate covenant plan is the renewal of the cosmos Christians should be working to anticipate that future in the present. "They are signs of hope for a world that groans in travail, waiting for its promised liberation."

Monday, May 3, 2010

What Saint Paul Really Said 11

This year as I focus my reading on the Apostle Paul I am seeking to understand better the writings of N.T. Wright. So I am doing a chapter-by-chapter summary of his book, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997). Today we are looking at chapter 8.

God’s Renewed Humanity

Gentiles: They lived in a way contrary to the way God intended human beings to exist.

Jews: This was Israel’s vocation but they were failing to attain it without the Messiah.

In other words, Paul challenged both Jew and Gentile and articulated a new way to be human to his converts.

The Centre of Renewed Humanity: Worship

The centre of this new humanity was the worship of the one true God revealed in Jesus the Messiah through the Holy Spirit. Paul’s desire was to see idolatry replaced with true worship.

Commenting on Romans 1, Wright says that Paul gives a fairly standard Jewish critique of the Gentiles . They choose to worship creation rather than the one true God and they, therefore, cease to reflect the image of God. However, he then turns to the Jew and points out that they cannot boast in their ‘Jewish-ness’ since they themselves are still in exile and share in the plight of humanity. God, however, is creating a new humanity who worships the one true God in fulfillment of his ancient promises.

The Goal of Renewed Humanity: Resurrection

Again, Wright shows how Paul’s views of resurrection challenged both Paganism and Judaism. Paul saw the future resurrection of believers as a physical reality that offered the reality to which the confused ideas of ‘immortality’ in paganism pointed. On the other end, Jewish belief in the resurrection was bound up with the Jewish hope that they would be vindicated as God’s people and the Gentiles would receive judgment. However, Paul saw sin and death as the real enemies of God that would be destroyed in the end. Moreover, Paul saw that God had already acted in Christ so that, “we are living in the first days after the great act of God within history to defeat sin and death and liberate the whole cosmos.”

The Transformation of Renewed Humanity: Holiness

When Jew and Gentile come to worship God they are transformed in the present. All those who are in Christ become holy through the Spirit (but not perfect). Christians still eagerly wait for what is yet to come. This holiness does not come through following the Torah as Paul once did but it is a matter of dying and rising with Christ. “The death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah are not, for Paul, merely events in the past, however climactic. They are the foundation of his, and the church’s, daily existence.”

The Coherence of Renewed Humanity: Love

Love is not just a fuzzy feeling for Paul. Love happens when God’s new humanity comes together, both Jew and Gentile, and they accept one another as equal members in God’s family. This was always what God intended with his covenant with Abraham. When this happens it shows the ‘principalities and powers’ that their time is up.

The Zeal of Renewed Humanity: Mission

The mission of the church is to announce the kingdom of God to the world. This is a different sort of kingdom to that of Caesar. God’s empire was the reality and Caesar’s was the parody.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Insights into Paul's Gospel: Michael Bird

As I read various writings on the apostle I will be quoting writers commenting on the gospel Paul proclaimed. Today we will hear from Michael Bird. The quote comes from his book "Introducing Paul" (IVP, 2008).

...The gospel includes a proclamation of the kingship and reign of the Lord Jesus Christ. The gospel is an explosive announcement that the despised and rejected one is now installed in a place of authority and deserves the acclaim normally reserved only for the greatest of worldly kings, for the highest gods of the pantheon, and even for the covenant God, Yahweh. In other words, Jesus is king and reigns over all...But merely stating that Jesus is king is an insufficient representation of the gospel...the gospel is about both the person and work of Christ. God promised in the Scriptures that he would renew creation and restore Israel. The gospel is the good news that God has made these promises good in Jesus, the Messiah and Lord. Jesus died and rose for the purpose of atoning for sins and through faith in him and his work believers are reconciled to God. The new age had been launched and God has revealed his saving righteousness in the gospel so that he justifies and delivers persons from the penalty and power of sin and death (p. 83).

N.T. Wright is 'Quitting' His Job

It has just been announced that N.T. Wright will be leaving his job as the Bishop of Durham and will devote his time to academics.

HT: Michael Bird

Monday, April 26, 2010

What Saint Paul Really Said 10

This year as I focus my reading on the Apostle Paul I am seeking to understand better the writings of N.T. Wright. So I am doing a chapter-by-chapter summary of his book, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997). Today we are looking at the second half of chapter 7.

Justification and the Church


According to Wright, in Galatians Paul isn't simply addressing how a person can have a relationship with God; he is addressing the issue as to whether the ex-pagan Christians should be circumcised and the question "what defines the people of God?" The issue at hand is, "who can one eat with?" and "who are the people of God?" Wright's reading of Galatians, then, is covenantal. He sees the law as the the Torah, the national charter of the Jewish race. The law did had its place in God's plan (in other words, it wasn't a bad thing) but that stage had now been completed and God was extending salvation to all people in Christ through the Spirit.

For Wright, justification has to do with, "how you can tell who is in the covenant family" (p. 122). The cross stands at the center of it all. "The cross, in fact, througout Galatians, is the redeeming turning-point of history. It is the goal of Israel's strange covenant story" (p. 122).


Wright takes a look at chapter 3 where, he says, Paul is speaking about covenant membership. Wright makes two observations of 3:9: 1) Paul uses membership language and; 2) Paul's covenant status is God's gift. When it comes to 'righteousness' Wright says that Paul is talking about 'covenant status' and the 'righteousness based on Torah' are badges of Judaism. Faith is the badge of covenant membership.


Wright starts at the beginning of Romans and gives a brief 'covenantal' reading of the text. Some important points include:

1) The gospel is the revelation of the righteousness of God. The gospel shows how God has been faithful to the covenant and has dealt with sin through the cross.

2) The covenant was always meant to deal with sin. Law-court and covenant need to be kept together.

3) The Jewish hope of vindication, resurrection, was about, "who will be shown to be the true people of God?" Paul saw that what he expected God to do for Israel at the eschaton he had done for Jesus in the middle of history by raising him from the dead. [Here is where I think Wright has a rich theology of 'imputation'. Jesus was faithful whereas Israel was unfaithful. The vindication that they had been waiting for had happened to Jesus and all those united to him share in the verdict. It's much bigger than "We can't obey the law perfectly but Jesus can and did so we get that perfect obedience imputed to us."]

4) 'Boasting' doesn't have to do so much with 'moralism' as it does with the 'racial boast of the Jew'.

5) Faith in Jesus, not works of the law, is the true badge of the 'righteous'.

6) Romans is a letter about the covenant purposes of God.

In sum, Wright sees Justification in the context of Law-Court, Covenant, and Eschatology.