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."

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