Saturday, July 31, 2010

Paul's Argument in Galatians 3:1-5

1 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by human effort? 4 Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? 5 Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by your observing the law, or by your believing what you heard? (TNIV)
Paul finally begins directly addressing the situation in Galatia. This section contains the first of three major arguments, this one being an argument from experience.

Paul comes out strong, calling the Galatians foolish. This rhetoric may seem over the top to us, but it was not unusual in its day. There's more to verse 1 than reprimand, though. Paul is also expressing how perplexed he is that they could follow the false teachers when both Paul's ministry and teaching clearly proclaimed Christ and him crucified. Often we overlook the clear signals that Paul sends about the cruciformity of his missionary activity. As Peter T. O'Brien argues in one of his lesser known works, Gospel and Mission in the Writings of Paul: An Exegetical and Theological Analysis, not only did Paul see Jesus as the suffering servant, but he also saw himself as continuing the ministry of the suffering servant. Paul suffered for the law free gospel and the Galatians witnessed that.

In verse 2 Paul continues the appeals to experience this time asking a powerful question with an answer that he assumes is obvious and decisively settles the conflict between him and the teachers. How did they receive the Spirit? Clearly it happened at their point of conversion and prior to their observance of the Torah. Since this is a critical moment in Paul's argument, we have to ask why of all the questions that he could ask did he only want to ask this one question? I think that the answer to this question validates my analysis of the prior section. I'll defend this more in a future post, but the reason why Paul asks this question is because his central concern is to show that the Galatians were part of the people of God prior to their following of the law. Possession of the Spirit is the sign that one is part of God's family, part of the people of God, thus if you have the Spirit, you're in. The Galatians had received the Spirit prior to the arrival of the Teachers, and hence prior to their doing of the law of Moses. Thus they should have known that they already were full fledged members of God's people.

Verses 3-5 shows that gaining right standing with God isn't Paul's sole concern in Galatians. He is as or more concerned about how one maintains that relationship. As 2:15-21 state, one enters the people of God by faith (that's the assumed starting point). At that point the Spirit is given, sealing you as a member of the people of God. If you've already got the seal and are living life in the Spirit and experiencing fullness of life, why would you try to continue your walk by the Torah? Paul is perplexed and the way he puts his question in verse 5 shows that he thinks that the answer, at least to him, is obvious. The Spirit moved in many, miraculous ways; ways that would probably make many of us uncomfortable, but it was assuredly God's Spirit.

While the Galatians experience should make obvious the fact that they because part of God's people by faith, receiving the Spirit, and therefore that they do not need to observe the Torah to continue to be in God's people, because they will still have the Spirit in them, Paul is not content to leave the argument there. Those two strands will be the topic of the rest of the letter as he will expand at great length on each of them with special emphasis on the role of the Spirit.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What's the Big Deal?

J.R. Daniel Kirk has an interesting post on why he doesn't believe the pastoral epistles were written by Paul [HT: Michael Bird]. In the post he discusses one of the common reasons why some Evangelicals vigorously demand Pauline authorship: the doctrine of inerrancy. Reflecting on this strong commitment to the historic undestanding of inerrancy that many have Kirk makes the following statement: '...no theology worth holding is going to so exert its control over our reading of the Bible that it will forbid us from saying what good exegesis of the passage demands that we say.'

I think that Kirk is exactly right here and this expresses one of my chief concerns for the continued intellectual viability of Evangelicalism. Why do some so strongly insist that an inerrant Bible must look like 'X?' The 'Xs' are manifold, they may be single authorship of Isaiah, Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, or a literal 7 day material creation within the last 10,000 years to name a few. The Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch is the most baffling to me. Why is it acceptable for Evangelical NT scholars to hold to Luke being composed from multiple sources like Mark and Q, but an Evangelical OT scholar might receive great backlash from certain quarters if he accepts JEPD? I just don't get it.

If we really trust that God has revealed himself in Scripture and if we really believe that the Bible is true and authoritative, we should let it tell us through our best exegesis what we should believe on these issues. I've had some people suggest that being open on these questions puts me in the position of 'judging the Bible/God.' Aux contrare, if anything, it's the other way around.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sophia Ha-Won Maher

Yesterday, at 11:36 AM, Sophia Ha-Won Maher entered the world weighing in at 7 lb. 4 oz. and measuring 20"!


Everyone is doing well and we are so grateful that God would give us such a precious blessing.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Galatians 2:15-21 and the Time of Justification

15 "We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles 16 know that a person is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.

17 "But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn't that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! 18 If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker.

19 "For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing! (TNIV)
There are many things that could be said about justification in this passage. Certainly there is a strong affirmation of justification being by faith and an emphasis on a corporate aspect of justification. What I'd like to point out in this post, though, is the time of justification.

Traditionally Reformed theology has a very strict ordo salutis in which justification is one piece of the puzzle in salvation (see Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray for a standard Calvinist presentation). It occurs at after one is born again and is the one time declaration by God that one is not guilty. The status that one receives because of the future not guilty verdict is 'justified.' There are passages like Romans 8:29-30 that might suggest the appropriateness of this type of scheme. Here, justification is understood to be a past event in the life of the believer.

I don't know if that will hold up when we look at how Paul talks about justification in this passage (my debt here is to Doug Moo in a lecture at Denver Seminary - though he didn't mention this specific passage). The first occurrence of 'justified' in verse 16 is a present indicative - thus justification is present. The second is an aorsit subjunctive, which means that there is no significance of time. The third occurrence, however is a future indicative. Justification, while not being by works, is something that happens in the future.

What is the primary sense of justification? I don't think we can answer that very easily. Each text has to be taken on a case by case basis being careful not to read in our understanding of justification that comes from systematic theology. Perhaps a fruitful way to go forward would be to examine what Paul is trying to do pastorally through talking about justification. That may help us see how past/present/future justification is understood to impact the believer in the present.

In the present text I think that Paul's uses in the first and third case (the two that involve time) are related. In the first he affirms that one is not justified (and hence part of the people of God - presently) by works. The third case affirms that final vindication does not come by faith. Both function similarly because they are phrased negatively (how one isn't justified) which I think shows that there is a close relation between justification in the present and justification on the last day. How close? I'll answer that in my 'Judgment and Justification' series.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Does 'the Word of God' = 'the Word of God'?

Lately on Jesus Creed, blogger RJS has been doing a series somewhat in response to Al Mohler's talk titled 'Why does the universe look so old?' at the recent Ligonier conference. In a post today, RJS made a very interesting statement that wasn't the main point of her argument, but I believe needs the attention of further discussion. I quote it below:
On the issue of authority I find it helpful to remain focused on Christ as the foundation of our faith. Scripture is a lamp; it provides reliable illumination, but is not the foundation. This change of focus helps me wrestle with the issues because it emphasizes an understanding where other information, tested against the whole, will shape our interpretation of scripture - but will not weaken the foundation of our faith. How we understand scripture as revelation inspired by God changes in subtle but important ways.
Traditionally Christianity has affirmed both that the second member of the Trinity is the word of God and that Scripture is the word of God. My guess is that RJS is working under the assumption that we mean something different when we make each of those affirmations (hence why Jesus but not Scripture is the foundation of her faith), even though they have the same predicate. I often find that in Evangelicalism that we haven't thought much about the fact that we use the same predicate in each sentence.

What do we mean when we say that Scripture is the word of God? Do we mean the same thing when we say that Jesus is the word of God? Should we (a) equate Scripture with the second member of the Trinity? Does (b) Scripture become the second member of the Trinity through proclamation and the work of the Holy Spirit in the recipient? Or (c) do we mean something less than either of those? Are there other options? I believe that the answer to these questions have huge hermeneutical significance and that we need to wrestle long and hard with them.

I have to confess that the more and more I think about it, the harder and more complex this question becomes. I think that we can come up with an reductio ad absurdum argument against position (a), that you'd have to worship the Bible if you hold position (a). But in practice, I think some people (perhaps even many, especially within the reformed tradition, of which I consider myself a part) are pretty close to doing just that, so maybe the reductio doesn't hold. But even if it does hold, do we want to go all the way to say that Scripture is not the very word of God, that it's a record of God's words in the past (c)? That seems to eliminate the 'livingness' of Scripture. So I guess I fall into position (b) by default, but I'm not convinced that it's the right place to end up.

Probably much of my confusion is based in a lack of clear understanding of what it means that Jesus, the second member of the Trinity, is the word of God. I think if I grasped that one better I could answer the other questions better. Besides Barth (whose influence is probably palpable in this post) who else has tackled this question? I'm sure many have, I'm just not sure where to start.

What are your thoughts? I'm especially interested in hearing from you if you disagree with me, because healthy, respectful debate is crucial if advancement in knowledge is to take place.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Judgment and Justification Part 5

One of the stickiest debates in all of New Testament scholarship is the debate over the Mosaic law. When Paul opposes works of law or Jesus opposes the Pharisees, what ae they opposing? We won't attempt a comprehensive answer to this question, but we do need to address it to some degree if we want to have a proper understanding of both justification and judgment. On questions of the law I would favor an approach probably within the New Perspective on Paul family, although my stance is a more mediating approach between perspectives old and new.

I do not believe that the term 'legalistic' is the best term to describe the approach of most first century Jews to the law (though that term may apply to the Essenes). One point at which I think this becomes clear is reading the Sermon on the Mount. If anything, at points it seems as if Jesus is opposing laxness and/or hypocrisy. With, that said, of course, any Jew in the first century would claim that one needed to keep the law to participate in God's eschatalogical salvation, which in a sense could be construed as legalistic, i.e., your performance has an effect on your salvation, but they did not generally believe that the law had to be kept perfectly, and they strongly believed that God was gracious and merciful towards them because of the covenant with Abraham. Some Jewish writings (like 4 Ezra) do seem to promote a 'merit theology' but that always needs to be understood within a wider covenantal framework.

When we get to Paul, again I do not find 'legalism' to be a helpful term describing the approach to the law that he opposed. A key passage for our understanding of these matters in Paul is Galatians 2:15-21. I've previously laid out my interpretation of that passage as a whole. The main issue in Galatians is whether or not Gentiles have to become Jews to become part of the people of God. Paul was combating, as Michael Bird puts it, 'ethnocentric nomism.' "Defined, ethnocentric nomism is the view that Jewish identity is the locus of salvation (hence ethnocentric) and that one must perform he law so as to enter the Jewish constituency and be vindicated at the eschaton (hence nomistic)" (The Saving Righteousness of God p. 117). Thus there was some link between law and the final judgment in the thinking of first century Jews, but I hesitate to call it legalism. With that said, I do firmly believe that the New Testament gives us the necessary ammunition to combat legalism today, but that takes us into the realm of systematic theology. One emphasis in Galatians, though, isn't on the fact the the Galatians are being pressured to follow a standard, it's on the fact that the standard erects a barrier between Jew and Gentile hindering God's family from becoming a world wide family. The other reason why nomism is so problematic to Paul is that it undercuts the sufficiency of the work of Christ and the Spirit.

One thing that this brief overview draws out, yet again, are the covenantal aspects of judgment and justification. In Galatians, Paul is answering the question, 'who are the people of God?' He answers that question by talking about justification by faith. This helps us to see that we shouldn't think of justification and judgment solely on the individual level. There are corporate, ecclesial aspects.

With this portion of the discussion under our belts we are now ready to jump headlong into our investigations into justification. Here we will take some time to examine several different and important views. In separate posts I'll treat Doug Moo, Michael Bird and Kevin Vanhoozer (I'll take these two together because of certain similarities), NT Wright, and Michael Gorman.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Book Review: The Lost World of Genesis One

I know that I am fairly late to the party in reviewing The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate. It's been out for nearly a year now, but I think that it's an important enough work that I can't resist. However, I'll deviate a bit from my typical pattern of rehashing the argument in detail. Instead I will offer five reactions/opinions (you can find a decent, brief review of the contents here if you are unfamiliar with them).

First, I have to say that I believe that, if nothing else, methodologically, Walton is on the right track. A concordant approach which attempts to draw on Genesis 1 for scientific theory is grossly anachronistic and (in my opinion) ironically about as far from a literal reading of Scripture as one can get. If we want to read Scripture literally we need to understand it within its cultural context and not import the meaning of English words (specifically 'create') into our understanding of Hebrew words.

Second, I like that Walton takes the text seriously. I remember hearing him give a lecture on this book about 10 months ago (see my recap). During that meeting, he said, 'I am a text guy.' His goal isn't to show that there is no conflict between faith and science (indeed his understanding of Genesis 2 would not win fans in the scientific community). His goal is to understand Genesis 1 as the original audience would have understood it.

Third, Walton's book gave me several 'aha' moments. Seeing the creation account as functionally (rather than materially) driven opened things up for me. For example, what did God mean when he declared creation 'good?' Walton argues that God deemed it to be functioning properly, with its intended purpose. This allows for a good creation to have volcanoes, earthquakes, and predatory animals and still be 'good.'

Fourth, I really like that Walton released his popular level book first (and it is definitely accessible to a lay audience), before his academic treatment. The church badly needs this book, because I think that we have dug ourselves a huge hole by defending creation 'science.' As Walton points out, his book isn't affirming evolution. The theory isn't without problems, but we need to stop trying to squeeze modern science out of Genesis 1.

Fifth, I agree with his conclusions about education. Public education should be metaphysically neutral. Evolution isn't necessarily at odds with Christianity. Now, many who support evolution are opposed to Christianity and think that science rules out the possibility of God. But that last claim is not a scientific claim, it's a metaphysical claim. God can work through any process that he wants to work through. Thus, science needs to be taught as science and not packaged with metaphysics.

As you can tell, I very much appreciate Walton's book. If you haven't read it yet, I urge you to pick up a copy and move it near the top of your reading list. Every scientist, science teacher, pastor, and parent needs to spend the requisite time to engage with this very timely and important work.

Friday, July 9, 2010

It's Over

I get it. While I don't think that Cleveland fans are justified in burning LeBron's jersey, I get it. In the words of Bill Simmons,
Cleveland fans will never forgive LeBron, nor should they. He knows better than anyone what kind of sports anguish they have suffered over the years. Losing LeBron on a contrived one-hour show would be worse than Byner's fumble, Jose Mesa, the Game 5 meltdown against Boston, The Drive, The Shot and everything else. At least those stomach-punch moments weren't preordained, unless you believe God hates Cleveland (entirely possible, by the way [My note: Michael Wittmer sure thinks so]). This stomach-punch moment? Calculated. By a local kid they loved, defended and revered.
With that said, I don't think that LeBron is a bad guy or that he had to stay in Cleveland (although I think one could make a decent argument for his moral obligation to remain a Cav). Cleveland wasn't a place where he could win a title, so I understand his desire to leave. He just shouldn't have left on national TV. It's like sending your girlfriend a link to a video on Youtube where you announce that you're starting a relationship with another woman. I don't think LeBron's a bad guy, I just think he's become too self absorbed and misguided. Again, I think Simmons was on target (emphasis mine),
...I don't think LeBron James has anyone in his life with enough juice to hurl his or her body in front of the concept of "I'm going to announce during a one-hour live show that I'm playing somewhere other than Cleveland." It's the best and worst thing about him -- he has remained fiercely loyal to his high school friends, but at the same time, he's surrounded by people his own age who don't stand up to him and don't know any better. Picking anyone other than Cleveland on this show would be the meanest thing any athlete has ever done to a city. But he might. Assuming he's not malicious, and that he's just a self-absorbed kid who apparently lost all perspective, that doesn't make him much different than most child stars who became famous before they could legally drink -- or, for that matter, Tiger Woods. That's just the way this stuff works. Too much, too fast, too soon. You don't lose your way all at once; just a little at a time. Then one day you look up and there's a TMZ photo spread with 15 of your mistresses, or you're agreeing to stab an entire city in the heart on a one-hour television show.
So I'm very disappointed in Lebron. But should I be? Isn't this the logical outcome when someone gets this much media and fan attention? Isn't this the only possible result in such a celebrity crazy society. I now see my own hypocrisy. I derided the way people went crazy over Paris Hilton, yet I've done the same thing with LeBron and his free agency. I couldn't get enough. I'm not saying that we need to completely ignore him, but we definitely focused way too much attention on one individual, a celebrity, even if he is exceptionally talented. While Lebron is accountable for his behavior, we certainly share in his guilt as enablers.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Good Lectures by Witherington (from 2007)

Today I listened to 3 very good lectures by Ben Witherington delivered at Truett [HT: Text, Community, & Mission]. I realize that these probably aren't new to many of you as they were given in 2007 (though they were new to me), but they were so good that I wanted to point them out anyways. Happy listening!

Session 1 is on whether or not we have pseudepigrapha in the New Testament. Witherington says no and provides an outstanding discussion of the issue that's making me reconsider my stance (although I still am uncertain about 2 Peter, though Witherington's stance on 2 Peter seems plausible).

Session 2 is about canonicity. At what point did the church have a functioning canon for the NT and how did the NT writers view their writing in relation to the OT. I don't think I agree with him on some points here (particularly his discussion of Jude's citation of 1 Enoch), but it's still definitely worth while to listen to.

Session 3 is on the question of the authorship of John. Witherington believes Lazarus is the author. His argument, while maybe going too far at a point here or there, was absolutely fascinating and worth strong consideration.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Judgment and Justification Part 4

In our last post we looked extensively at the land as the sphere in which God's people experienced God's blessing for living God's way. In this post we want to start fleshing out a very broad picture of how living God's way relates to the theme of judgment,. In this post we will focusing particularly on the law in the Old Testament.

In the Old Testament, living God's way is clearly spelled out. The middle of Exodus through Deuteronomy provides us with God's law, the rules that were supposed to govern life in the land. As we looked at in our last post, keeping the law meant reward in the land. A pattern of breaking the law brought on judgment and could ultimately result in expulsion from the land and thus from God's presence.

I believe, though, that that is an incomplete explanation. When looking at the Law we need to consider the wider narrative framework in which the law is situated. First, we must keep in mind that the covenant came first, both with Abraham and then again at Sinai. This means that we have to understand the law as functioning within the covenant. It was the means God used to tell his people how to relate to him, to one another, and to creation (both to the land and to animals). The second element of the narrative framework that we must remember is that the law was given to God's people, to a people whom God had already acted to liberate and save. Thus following the law was meant to be a response to the grace God had given them (this is clear when you read the ten commandments). Finally, we need to look at the purpose of the law. I believe (following Christopher Wright), that the law was given with the intention of Israel being a model to the nations. They were supposed to live in a distinctive manner that showed that their God was different from the gods the neighboring nations worshiped.

All of this should make at least one thing crystal clear. The law was not intended to bring people into relationship with God. It was given to a redeemed people. While it was supposed to regulate relationships within the covenant, the goal of the law was not for individuals to try to curry favor with God by their own effort. Rather than opposing grace, I would claim that the law was a form of grace because it revealed God's will.

In our next post we will look a bit more at understandings of the function of the law that the New Testament opposes. A discussion of the New Perspective on Paul is inevitable at this juncture.