Friday, February 12, 2010

N.T. Wright on Preaching the Gospel

"God intends to do through us for the wider world that for which the foundation was laid in Jesus. We are to live and tell the story of the prodigal and the older brother; to announce God's glad, exuberant, richly healing welcome for sinners, and at the same time God's sorrowful but implacable opposition to those who persist in arrogance, oppression and greed. Following Christ in the power of the Spirit means bringing to our world the shape of the gospel: forgiveness, the best news anyone can hear, for all who yearn for it; and judgment for all who insist on dehumanizing themselves and others by their continuing pride, injustice and greed. The human race has been in exile; exiled from the garden, shut out of the house, bombarded with noise instead of music. Our task is to announce in deed and word that the exile is over, to enact the symbols that speak of healing and forgiveness, to act boldly in the power of the Spirit." (The Challenge of Easter pp 46-47)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

What Saint Paul Really Said 2

'Zeal' is an important word in this chapter. The pre-Christian Paul was zealous for Torah. This did not mean that he woke up in the morning with a hot cup of coffee did his devotions and said his prayers (although that is a very good thing to do). Zeal was something that was done with a knife! He was from a strict sect of Pharisees known as the Shammaites. He was zealous for YHWH and Torah and this expressed itself in violence. He was willing to do anything to bring about God's kingdom, the longed for liberty.

Paul was waiting for the great promises made in the prophets to be fulfilled, the true 'return-from-exile'. Like many other Jews of the day he thought that these things were still going to be truly fulfilled in 'accordance with the Scriptures.' This was a story that still needed an ending and his goal was to bring it about. God had promised to deal with sin through his covenant with Abraham. Yet the people of promise themselves became sinful and were cast into exile. The scriptures spoke of a day when all of this would be sorted out. One day YHWH would return to Zion, evil would be defeated and the true people of God would be vindicated. This might be summarized in three points: monotheism, election and eschatology. The one true God had chosen Israel as his special people and he would bring his plan through-them-for-the-world (I borrowed that from his latest book) to its climax. YHWH would become king over all the world; in order for this to happen, however, Israel needed to keep Torah. Paul would make this a reality through violent zeal, 'zeal for God, zeal for Torah, zeal that will bring in the kingdom.'

Paul wasn't just looking for some sort of timeless salvation. He was waiting for the promises of God to come to their climax. He was waiting for God to redeem Israel and fulfill his covenant, the purpose of which was to undo the sin of Adam. The bearers of the solution, however, needed saving and were waiting for God to act.

Wright goes on to discuss some technical terms in light of this reading of Paul, namely, justification and eschatology. Justification and eschatology go together. The eschatological hope of Israel was that God would vindicate his people. Through obedience to the Torah, with a particular zeal, one could be assured in the present that they would be vindicated in the future.

After Paul saw the resurrected Jesus all this changed. He came to see that God did for Jesus, in the middle of time, what he thought he was going to do for Israel at the end of time. The resurrection showed that Jesus really was the Messiah. "But if Jesus really was the Messiah, and if his death and resurrection really were the decisive heaven-sent defeat of sin and the vindication of the people of YHWH, then this means that the Age to Come had already begun, had already been inaugurated, even though the Present Age, the time of sin, rebellion and wickedness, was still proceeding apace."

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What Saint Paul Really Said 1

I am a huge N.T. Wright fan boy. Even when I disagree with the Bishop I always find him insightful and challenging. I read the Bible better because of him. One reason why I am interested in reading Paul is because of Wright. In my seminary days I heard a lot about N.T. Wright and the 'New Perspective', most of it negative. Wright, in my mind, was a dangerous figure who led people to some sort of works-righteousness. He had strange notions of the law being that which separated Jew from Gentile. I remember the moment I decided I would start reading the Bishop for myself. I was going for a jog and was listening to Ephesians on my iPod. Then Max Mclean said, as only Max Mclean could say, "Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility" (Eph 2.11-16). I suspected that Wright had some important things to say and I have since then found that to be true.

So, alongside Gorman's Reading Paul, I have decided to read What Saint Paul Really Said. I will be reading through each chapter and will post things that I found helpful (or not so helpful) and which help me to understand Paul more.

In chapter 1 Wright surveys some scholars and discusses their impact on Pauline theology. There are scholars that emphasize Paul's Jewishness and then there are those who say that Paul draws on Hellenism. There are four questions that people have been asking as they study Paul: 1) Where do we place him? (history), 2) What is at the center of Paul? (theology), how do we study his letters amidst the vast amount of literature (exegesis), how do we use Paul today? (application).

Here is a great quote from Wright that ends off this chapter: "Paul in the twentieth century, then, has been used and abused much as in the first. Can we, as the century draws to a close, listen a bit more closely to him? Can we somehow repent of the ways in which we have mishandled him and respect his own way of doing things a bit more? This book is an attempt to do just that: to stand back from the ways we have read Paul and to explore a bit more how Paul himself suggests we read him. It is an attempt to study Paul in his own terms. It is trying to come to grips with what he really said. (pg. 23).

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

N.T. Wright on the Faith of Abraham

"Paul's description of Abraham's faith...goes deeper than simply an account of heroic trust in the face of overwhelming odds. It is a deliberate reversal of his description of the degeneration of the human race in [Romans] chapter 1...What Paul is saying is that in Abraham's faith, and in faith of the same kind, human beings are put back together again and enabled to rediscover what a genuinely human life is like.

This is how it works. Humans ignored God, the creator (1,20, 25); Abraham believed in God as creator and life-giver (4.17). Humans knew about God's power, but didn't worship him as God (1.20); Abraham recognized God's power, and trusted him to use it (4.21). Human beings did not give God the glory he was due (1.21); Abraham gave God the glory (4.20). Human beings dishonored their own bodies by worshiping beings that were not divine (1.24); Abraham, through worshiping the God who gives new life, found that his own body regained its power even though he was long past the age for fathering children." (Romans for Everyone, pp. 77-78)