Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Perspective on Perspectives

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you may know that I am somewhat sympathetic towards the New Perspective on Paul (or perhaps better put, in agreement with certain elements of certain strands). The point of this post isn't so much to ask about the quality of exegesis of specific passages of Scripture that a NPP approach yields, but to ask some pertinent questions that I think both sides of the Old/New perspective divides should consider, and I know that I'm probably not the first one to ask this set of questions, but I think that we need to do some wrestling with our presuppositions.

Arguably the most important thing that post modernity has bashed into our brains is that we need to constantly examine what presuppositions we bring to the text. What blind spots do we have because of our experiences and the various cultures that we inhabit? Fair enough, let me ask the question to myself. One of the elements of NPP exegesis that resonates with me is the emphasis on horizontal dimensions of salvation, especially unity between Jew and Gentile (Ephesians 2 lays this out so eloquently). This becomes a central focal point through which much of Pauline soteriology is read.

Now for some biography. I grew up in a white suburban neighborhood. I went to a white all-male Catholic high school (162 out of 167 in my graduating class were white). In college I discovered other cultures for the first time, eventually ending up in an Asian-American campus ministry and church, marrying a 1st generation Korean immigrant and I've traveled to Asia three times (and loved every minute of it). If the Lord is willing I'd move to Korea or China in a heartbeat. Being united with believers of a different race has been an eye-opening experience that has helped me to see how God is glorified through the unity of people who otherwise have little or nothing in common (this extends far beyond racial unity). I don't think that my experience is all that unique. In a globalized world, these types of connections are becoming more and more common and in America our culture is increasingly variegated providing opportunities for unity in diversity.

My questions is, since we live in intersection with other cultures in ways we never have in the past, are we predisposed to find the importance of ethnic unity in Scripture or does our cultural situation enable us to see something that may have been invisible to the church in the past?

I think we also need to ask a question about unity in a more general sense. Being tolerant is the meta-norm of our culture. Has our culture rubbed off on us to the extent that we find a stress on tolerance (granted not a total tolerance like some in our culture want) at the heart of Paul's message to Christians (an important specification), or again is it really there?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Barth on God as Our Father

This is what God is for us. But we must admit that we have no right to call him Father, to be his children, to address him in this manner. He is our Father and we are his children by virtue of the natural relationship existing between him and Jesus Christ, by virtue of this Fatherhood and this Sonship which were made real in the person of Jesus Christ; and for us they are made real in him. We are his children and he is our Father, by virtue of this new birth realized at Christmas, on Good Friday, at Easter, and fulfilled at the moment of our baptism. It is a new birth, that is to say a new existence, really new, a life quite different from the one that can be born of our human possibilities, of our own merits. "God our Father" means "our Father of mercy." We are and always shall be prodigal sons who can claim no other right than that which is given us in the person of Jesus Christ.

This does not weaken what has been said of the divine Fatherhood. The clarity and the certitude, the very greatness and majesty of our Father appear in the fact that we find ourselves before him without power, without merit, without proper faith, and empty-handed. Yet in Christ we are the children of God. The reality of Sonship would not be more certain if there could be added to it anything whatsoever coming from us. The divine reality alone is the fullness of all reality.

Jesus Christ is the donor and the warrant of the divine Fatherhood and of our filiality. It is the reason for which this Fatherhood and this filiality are incomparably superior to any other, to any relationship suggested to us by the words "father," "son," and "children." These human bonds are not the original, of which the other would be the image or symbol. The original, the true fatherhood, the true filiality are in the ties which God has created between himself and us. Everything which exists among us is merely the image of this original filiality. When we call God our Father, we do not fall into symbolism; on the contrary, we are in the full reality of these two words: "father" and "son." (Barth: Prayer 24-25)