Monday, December 26, 2011

Paul's Argument in Galatians 6:11-18

11 See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!
 12 Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 Not even those who are circumcised keep the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your circumcision in the flesh. 14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. 16 Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God.
 17 From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.
 18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.

In his conclusion to the Galatians Paul takes up the pen in his own hand, not so much to underscore authenticity as to draw attention to the importance of what he now has to say. This section is probably the most power packed of any in the Pauline corpus.

One last time Paul wants to go on the offensive against the Teachers. He impugns their motives, claiming that on top of being wrong, they’re insincere. The real reason why they’re making Torah observance a big issue is out of a desire to avoid persecution (note they’re given the same charge as Peter in chapter 2) being carried out by zealous Jews towards those (like many in the early church) who were soft on Torah, especially on Jewish identity markers like circumcision. If they could convince the Gentile Galatians to become Jews then, rather than being persecuted, they would be lauded and have grounds for boasting.

In vv. 14-15 we see the strong apocalyptic themes in Paul’s thought. The time for defining the people of God by Torah is a thing of the past. Torah with its inherent division of humanity into Jew and non-Jew is a thing of the past. All distinctions have been erased by the cross. The problem of the Teachers isn’t that they’re Jewish, it’s that they’re trying to restrict the people of God ethnically. ‘Here too, the irony of Paul’s critique should not be missed: the very appraisal of circumcision by which Jews typically saw themselves as marked out from the wider world (as special to God) was itself a mark of belongingness to the world in its distance from God and deserving of God’s judgment’ (Dunn 342 - emphasis original).

Paul concludes with words of blessing and a hopefulness that the Galatians will ultimately be on his side. Sandwiched in there is his wish to not have to deal with this issue again. His cruciform lifestyle was self evident and should have been all of the testimony he needed of his genuine apostleship. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Movies of the Year: 2011

I've started watching more movies over the past year, so I thought that I might put together my list of movies of the year. Much like my books of the year post it's a list of the best movies I watched this year, regardless of release date.

5. A Serious Man

This Coen brothers' film definitely has a niche audience, but I have to agree with some of the critics who thought that this movie was better than No Country for Old Men. It weaves together popular wisdom and biblical themes into a rich tapestry on which to explore the question of suffering.

4. The Silence of the Lambs

I do not like horror movies, but this movie and Hopkins performance are as good as advertised.

3. Sucker Punch

This may be the most misunderstood film in a long long time. Not only does it not suck, like it's critics claimed, but it's a phenomenal film and brilliantly told if you'll take the time to dig your teeth into it after you're done watching it. See my review and defense of the film here.

2. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

This fall I showed my wife a few of Steve Martin's films to expose her to the best of American comedy. I had only seen bits and pieces before. After watching it the whole way through, I think I have to say that it's my all-time favorite comedy.

1. Black Swan

Black Swan is probably in my all time top ten. It's been years since I've seen a film that caused me to well up with pure delight (it's similar to how I felt about Godfather II when I saw that for the first time a few years ago). The story telling is exquisitely beautiful and Natalie Portman deserved her Oscar.

Now for the top 5 movies that came out this year that I haven't seen yet and hope to see next year.

5. Pearl Jam Twenty

Pearl Jam is by far my favorite band and this is the definitive documentary released for their 20th anniversary. It should be two hours of awesome music and great insight into the last great rock band.

4. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Gary Oldman is an excellent actor and I love spy movies. Unfortunately I can't find a movie theater nearby showing it so I guess I'll be watching on Netflix.

3. Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol

My favorite genre of movie is PG-13 action movies. Hopefully I'll catch this before it's out of the theaters.

2. Moneyball

Baseball is my favorite sport and I think that Billy Beane's insight was real. I think it should be interesting.

1. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I love the Swedish original. I love Daniel Craig. I love Rooney Mara. I'll be at the theater next weekend.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Books of the Year: 2011

This was the first full year of my daughter's life. Probably unsurprisingly, it also was probably the year I read the least. I still read enough quality, though, to have what I view as a strong list. As always, the rule here is that I must have read (finished) the book in 2011 and have not finished it in a prior year.

5. Women in the Hebrew Bible ed. Alice Bach

This book is a collection of 'greatest hits' of feminist OT scholarship. It was a delight to read. Virtually every article was interesting even if not persuasive. One essay in particular stood out, 'Genesis 22: The Sacrifice of Sarah' by Phyllis Trible. It was one of the two best essays I read all year.

4. One.Life by Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is one of those people who I consider a mentor through their writings. This is a great little book on discipleship for teenagers up through people in their early thirties. I was particularly impacted by the stories he told about his interactions with students. It gave me a model to follow if and when I ever become a professor.

3. Jesus and the Victory of God by N.T. Wright

This book is class Wright. While overdone in places, Wright's analysis is very insightful. It paints a very coherent picture of a Jewish Jesus and has helped me in many cases understand just what the Synoptic writers were trying to convey.

2. Galatians by James Dunn

This is hands down the best commentary on Galatians. Even if you're not a NPP person there's a ton of useful information here, and hey, it may persuade you. It did me.

1. Constructing Jesus by Dale Allison

I've always loved the work of Dale Allison. This book reminded me why. He's so attentive to detail and also integrates data from other disciplines effectively. The sections on human memory were particularly eye opening and his overall approach to historical Jesus studies seem to me to be right on track.

Now for my top 5 books that came out in 2011 that I have not yet had a chance to read but wish to.

5. Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology by John Walton
I loved Lost World of Genesis One (see review), so I think I'll like this book, which is a scholarly treatment of the same material.

4. Justification: Five Views eds. James Beilby and Paul Rhodes Eddy

If the contributors are strong I really enjoy books that attempt to provide debate on important issues. Justification is a topic of interest for me and I like several of the contributors, especially Michael Horton, Michael Bird, and James Dunn.

3. Proverbs & Ecclesiastes by Daniel Treier

Of the commentaries that came out this year, this is the one I'm most interested in. I took a brief peek at it in the library and found it to be very rich.

2. Simply Jesus by N.T. Wright

I'm always on the lookout for books on Jesus that I can recommend to lay people. I expect that this will probably be at the top of my list.

1. Life After Death by Anthony Thiselton

I'm not too interested in hell, but I am interested in what happens to a believer when they die. I actually think this isn't completely clear in Scripture. In his intro to Paul, Thiselton in passing made a comment that he thinks Paul took what we would now call a 'soul sleep' position. Unfortunately there wasn't much discussion of it. There will be here, I assume. Thiselton also is fairly aged so it'll be interesting to get the perspective of a scholar who is closer to the end of his life than further.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Book Review: A Community Called Atonement

Last year I reviewed Inhabiting the Cruciform God by Michael Gorman at great length. For as long as this blog is kept running, I want to do the same for one book each year. This year's review will be of A Community Called Atonement by Scot McKnight. If you have any requests for next year's book, leave me a comment and we can have further discussion.

It's important to read the prologue of this book. Here McKnight lays out his major goal, to which he constantly refers throughout the rest of the book. He likens our atonement theories and metaphors to golf clubs. When you play golf you need more than one club if you're going to be successful, and the Bible uses more than one image to describe the atonement. We need to find a golf bag in which we can fit all of our atonement clubs and we need to know what the purpose of each club in that bag is (xiii). In the following pages, McKnight lays just that out.

McKnight begins with the claim that the atonement is the good news of the gospel, and that it explains how the gospel works (1). He also insists that atonement must make a difference in your life, in the way you live right now (1-2). Atonement brings reconciliation and healing, and extends beyond our relationship with God to our relationship with one another. Atonement theory is practical and, 'the gospel we preach shapes the kind of churches we create.' While, 'the kind of church we have shapes the gospel we preach' (5). These are two key assumptions that drive much of what McKnight says throughout the book. Both our preaching and our communities need to reflect the fullness of what God has done through Christ in bringing atonement.

The discussion of atonement begins in the logical, but often overlooked place, with Jesus; more specifically with Jesus proclamation of and ushering in of the kingdom. McKnight's main thrust through this chapter is that, 'any atonement theory that is not an ecclesial theory of atonement is incomplete' (9 - emphasis original), because the saving work of God brings in a just society where we experience peace (10). The kingdom is the telos of the atonement (13). The bulk of this chapter deals with several key passages in Luke-Acts illustrating the centrality of those elements of Jesus kingdom teaching.

The kingdom isn't McKnight's only starting point. McKnight starts this chapter by emphasizing the obvious; where you start determines where you'll end. If you start with wrath, you'll end up with penal substitutionary atonement (15). Others pick other starting points and end up with equally narrow atonement theories. So, in this chapter, McKnight trots out three more starting points along with kingdom (the next will bring up another three), God, humanity, and sin. Drawing on the Eastern emphasis on periochoresis, McKnight stresses that atonement brings a fourfold reconciliation between us, images of God broken by sin, and God; one another; ourselves; and the cosmos (22). The biggest problem we face is that we've sinned against God, but we need to see the full scope of our needed restoration if we're to get our understanding of atonement right (23).

McKnight's final batch of three starting points are eternity, ecclesial community, and praxis. The core of this chapter can be summed up in this quote, 'Atonement is the work of God to create and ready his people for just these things: union with God and communion with others in a place of perfection, with a society of justice and peace and above all worship of the lamb of God on the throne' (27). Life here and now is supposed to be lived in light of this future reality, to be lived as if it really is true (25). Individuals benefit from atonement, but always in the context of a community (27). And the communities that God creates bring atonement, it is the task of the church to perform atonement (28-31).

Now that McKnight has given us a well-rounded picture of the different elements that need to be held together in our atonement theology, he moves onto addressing different atonement metaphors. The discussion begins with a discussion of metaphor and what it means to call atonement theories metaphors. He cites Vanhoozer,
any given theory of atonement is "not a set of timeless propositions, nor an expression of religious experience, nor grammatical rules for Christian speech and thought, but rather an imagination that corresponds to and continues the gospel by making good theological judgments about what to say and do in light of the reality of Jesus Christ" (36-7 emphasis McKnight's).
Another key point that McKnight makes is that we understand metaphors by indwelling them, not by dissecting them (37). The reason why metaphors are used is because they are so effective at pointing to another reality, to a reality beyond themselves. They're a lens that we look through to see the thing (38).

McKnight then goes on to evaluate penal substitution and its critics, offering three concerns with what he sees as distortions that come from some proponents of the theory. The two main points that he makes are these, we need to make sure we don't present God as being in conflict with himself as if his love and holiness opposed one another (41-2) and second that we need to recognize that it is one metaphor among others that Scripture gives us. '[A]dvocates of this theory run the risk of playing the game of golf with one club' (42). McKnight issues a challenge to those who oppose penal substitution as well, saying that they often caricaturize the theory (40).

The sixth chapter continues to extend some of his earlier discussion about the need to start at the right place to get the end result, in the process deepening his earlier discussion on humanity and sin. In what follows McKnight addresses the three key moments of the atonement; the incarnation, crucifixion (which is the central key moment), and the resurrection.

We will highlight how McKnight handles one of these themes. Since it's Christmas let's opt for 'incarnation,' which 'means identification for the sake of liberation' (55). Jesus becomes what we are and in the process creates a people around himself (57). This happens through our union with Christ. Union with Christ is central to McKnight's entire atonement theology. Wisdom, sanctification, redemption, and justification all flow to us because of our union with Christ (59-60). The incarnation is crucial for union with Christ to take place. The central passage for McKnight is Phil 2:5-11, the passage he calls, 'the most complete statement of the atoning work that we can find in the entire New Testament' (60). Here we see how Jesus entire life of selfless service atones for sinful people (60). It's an atonement that draws us into the very life of God and calls us to live in accordance with Jesus example (60).

The next three chapters discuss how four of the churches most important 'theologians' discussed atonement. Chapter 11 examines Jesus' understanding of his death, looking at the Last Supper. McKnight stresses that the Last Supper 'storified' Jesus death for his disciples (83). Jesus dies during Passover, not on Yom Kippur. That fact gives shape to our understanding of the atonement. "Jesus' act at the Last Supper declares that his death is atoning, that his blood is like the Passover blood, that his blood absorbs the judgment of God against sin and systemic violence, that his death will save and liberate his followers from their own sins, and that his death will create the new covenant community around him" (86).

Next, McKnight looks at Paul, sketching his doctrine of justification. Building off of the work of N.T. Wright, justification is defined as, 'the declaration of God, the just judge, that someone is (a) in the right, that their sins are forgiven, and (b) a true member of the covenant family, the people belonging to Abraham' (93 - emphasis original). In contrast to the Reformers, McKnight emphasizes that justification is not about how one gets into God's family. It simply is a declaration that this has taken place (93). Point (b) is critical to properly understanding justification. It helps us move beyond an individualistic understanding of what happens at justification. Additionally, it opens the door to justification being effective in the believer and communities now, having moral impact (97-8).

The last chapter in this section showcases Irenaeus and Athanasius. McKnight selects these theologians of the early church because of their emphasis on recpaitulation, which he considers to be the bag that holds the clubs. Christ recapitualtes, or sums up, Adam's life, Israel's life, and our own in both an exclusive sense (standing in our place doing what we cannot) and an inclusive sense, incorporating us into his life. Here McKnight works along lines similar to Michael Gorman, emphasizing theosis - a theory which contends that by our union with Christ we, while remaining distinct from God, participate in his very life (103).

In chapter fourteen McKnight moves to summary. His central theme is, 'identification for incorporation' (107). Jesus identifies with us and incorporate us into his death and resurrection (107). Identification grounds the atonement with the purpose of incorporating us (108-9). The rest of the atonement theories work out different pieces of this concept of identification for incorporation (110-4).

Unfortunately I have run out of space to provide but the briefest of summaries of the last major portion of the book. The title of the book is 'A Community Called Atonement,' meaning in part that atonement is something that the community does and brings. McKnight explores several different avenues under the heading of praxis, looking at a wide range of issues of worship, community, and external mission. These themes are looked at to help us see how we can both experience and bring atonement here and now.

Overall I was very pleased with McKnight's work. In many ways it brought clarity to my own thoughts on the subject. There were three aspects in particular that I thought were important. First, I think it's critical that we play with a full set of clubs. I have seen far too many Christians (both on the left and right) emphasize one aspect of the atonement to the neglect of the others. These have the effect of presenting an imbalanced portrait of God. I found McKnight's proposal, that we need to have more than one starting place for our discussion to be so helpful in guarding against that mistake. If, for example, you start your atonement theory at the fall then you're going to have a narrow understanding of the atonement. McKnight integrates themes and texts very, very well.

Second, I thought McKnight's discussion of justification was rich and broad. McKnight's view is very nuanced and helpfully develops N.T. Wright's work. It also was short, and that's a good thing. There's so much more to the atonement than justification. My only wish here was that it had been later in the book, after he had introduced the 'identification for incorporation concept' so that he could present it as an alternative formulation to double imputation.

Third, it is wonderful that one third of the book is devoted to matters of praxis. If we do not ultimately live as agents bringing atonement to the world, if we do not experience the effects of atonement now, and if we do not live in hope of the culmination of God's atoning work then the previous discussion does not matter. We need more scholars and theologians to write these kind of books. We need them to be written by scholars because we need to read the best work that has the most rigorous research behind it. We need practical books because it's too easy for many of us to make our theology a point for debate not a pointer for how to live.

I do have one criticism and one point that I would have liked to have seen developed more fully. I'll begin with the latter. In his discussion of resurrection, McKnight explains how God is at work creating a transnational people (72). The work of Christ erases distinctions that divide and puts everyone on an equal playing field before God. I felt McKnight's treatment of this topic was far too brief. It could be argued to be the central theme of several of Paul's most important letters (Romans, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, and Ephesians). It only gets about half of a page. A neglect of this theme permeates large swaths of the church and we needlessly create division among ourselves and claim superiority over others for a variety of reasons. Unity is at the heart of the gospel and the atonement. Unity is a matter of first priority. I would have liked further discussion here.

Also, as McKnight has noted in King Jesus Gospel, the gospel can't be equated with atonement. The gospel saves, but that does not mean that we should equate gospel and atonement as McKnight does on the opening page of the book (he discusses his shift from this approach in the King Jesus Gospel - see my review). The gospel is the story of Jesus. It includes his life (especially his public ministry), death, and resurrection. To be clear, McKnight's understanding of the gospel is far from transactional in this book, however he still defines the gospel too narrowly.

These criticisms are minor. I found A Community Called Atonement to be an excellent discussion of atonement that hits its target audience (pastors). It's neither too long and dense nor too short and superficial. A Community Called Atonement is theology come to life, as McKnight not only explains what atonement is but tells us how to live it. It is a timely call and challenge to all who have inadequate atonement theologies. Will we listen and bring atonement to this world?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Correcting Erring Saints, In Canonical Context

 1 Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. 2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3 If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. 4 Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, 5 for each one should carry their own load. 6 Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor. 
7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. 9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (NIV)
Here in Galatians 6:1-10 Paul explains how to deal with erring saints. They are to be restored with gentleness. How do we square this with his attitude towards the Teachers, as well as his stance in 1 Corinthians 5, or Jesus words on this subject in Matthew 18? What model is to be the primary model for dealing with sin in the community?

We will start with this text. There are three main emphases. Correction is to be restorative, it is to be done gently, and it is to be done humbly. While this text doesn't focus so much on the mechanics, it does provide a framework within which to act. It's not a manual, it's a list of virtues to embody. For those who love virtue ethics, this is the text for you.

Second, we will consider Matthew 18:15-20. This passage is much more like a manual, do this and if it doesn't work then do that, and so on. This is probably the standard text in evangelicalism for how to enact church discipline. And I understand why, because it's clear cut. We like easy to follow rules. The problem is that this text often gets implemented without paying any attention to our current Galatians passage. Yes, go ahead and follow the steps on this list, but make sure it's done with gentleness. Much seems to be done in haste to deal with sin quickly and decisively. Why?

Well probably because of the impact of 1 Corinthians 5. Here Paul rips the Corinthians for their failure to deal with a major, open sin issue. It's important to a key point about this text, though. The issue is with the Corinthians because they didn't do anything. It's not that they were slow and careful in dealing with the problem. In fact, they practically encouraged it! And the guy seemed to show no sign of remorse. Paul's concern is that the Corinthians won't do anything about the matter. They won't go through the last step of Matthew 18 and finally remove the unrepentant individual (notice vs. 5 does show some concern for the individual) from the community. 1 Corinthians 5 is not ordering swift and decisive action, as it might appear to be at first glance. It's simply upbraiding pure inaction and the attitude that sin doesn't matter.

So what does a well rounded understanding of correction look like? First it needs to be stressed (because of how commonly we have erred here) that it needs to be done in gentleness and humility. The whole goal of discipline isn't expulsion, it's restoration. Second, sin matters. The community is called to be holy and needs to take that calling seriously. Gentleness isn't the lack of correction, it's the spirit in which correction is to be performed. Finally, there's a clear protocol to follow. Don't expose sin publicly unnecessarily, but deal with it in a discrete and firm manner.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Galatians winding down, next up?

There's now one section left to cover in Galatians to finish up the letter. A while back I had mentioned that I would be tackling John next. Well plans have changed. I've decided that I want to start a long term research project that you'll probably read a lot more about in the future on this blog (if you keep reading it of course). The next book up will be Song of Songs.

I'm just starting a study sexual ethics, particularly focusing on the relationships between sex, identity, and power. This will probably be a long study that will take years if the Lord gives me the energy and desire to see it to completion. To start I'll have a dual focus. First will be to look at how the Bible gives positive shape to our understanding of sex, sexual ethics, and sexual identity. Song of Songs becomes an obvious starting point here. The second starting point will be to seek to gain a better understanding of gender in the Bible. How 'gendered' are the biblical texts and how does that 'genderedness' affect the content and presentation? I do believe that the Bible is the word of God, but I believe that it is the word of God to a particular people in a particular point in history. I do think that we need to account for that particularity. How to best do that is something that I am still uncertain of and will be one of the fun elements of doing this study.

Here's where I think that feminist theology can be a critical help, or at least a certain brand of feminist theology. Feminist theology, much like the Latin American liberation theology that it comes from can be oh so helpful, showing us our own biases as well as biases that affected the biblical texts, as long as it doesn't seek to turn the tables and replace one hierarchy with another with women at the top (as noted by Alice Bach in the introduction to Women in the Hebrew Bible xv). 

So, along side Song of Songs, you will probably see some posts on Proverbs 1-9 and Proverbs 31 as I examine Old Testament perspectives on women and gender (drawing this idea from the fascinating article by Carol Newsom titled 'Woman and the Discourse of Patriarchal Wisdom: A Study of Proverbs 1-9 in Women in the Hebrew Bible). Though, initially this will probably be a smaller focus.

Why do I want to tackle this topic? Mainly I want to understand myself better and grow in holiness. I'm honestly not totally sure what sexual holiness means precisely (beyond a few obvious prohibitions like adultery or watching porn) or how to best pursue it. Some of the hyper-avoidance methods that have been popularized strike me as both unhelpful and potentially demeaning or even dehumanizing to others. Yet clearly boundaries can still be helpful.

Sex is everywhere. Living in early 21st century culture certainly has shaped my understanding of sex drastically. It's changed the way I see the world and probably changed the way I interact with women in ways I'm not aware of. Perception isn't neutral (more on this in a future post). I want to shape it so that I can live in a way that is pleasing to God and hopefully learn from and provide resources to others journeying with me.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Paul's Argument in Galatians 6:1-10

 1 Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. 2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3 If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. 4 Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, 5 for each one should carry their own load. 6 Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor. 
7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. 9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (NIV)
In this section Paul finishes the body of the letter. The closing exhortation builds off of the last section, specifically the call to live by the Spirit and exhibit its fruit. Martyn has a diagram that shows the specifics  on p. 543, which I'll summarize (since you can no longer insert Excel tables into blogger). Vs. 1 calls for gentleness, vs. 2 for patience, vv. 4-5 for self-control, and vs. 6 for generosity.

If the community possesses the Spirit then it will exhibit the fruit of the Spirit. But what do they do when a member fails to live up to that standard?[1] The law had an answer for that. The Torah not only shaped identity it also stipulated punishments for failure to keep it. How should a community dependent on the Spirit react? Paul answers by telling them to live out that fruit in the way they deal with erring members. Be gentle and have self-control. The goal isn't to punish, but to restore. Have patience with one another. Working out issues of sin takes time. The community must come together and help each other strive to be holy. 

Rather than excluding one another Paul calls for the Galatians to bear each other's burdens. Listen to each other, fast and pray for each other, encourage each other, keep each other accountable. Paul makes the community responsible for the growth in holiness of each individual member. Through that costly ministry the law of Christ is fulfilled. 

Paul can foresee a potential problem happening, though. When there's this much contact between people there's an opportunity for pride to creep in. Paul commands that no such thing be done (is this perhaps a veiled shot at the Teachers who may have been boastful of their righteousness as Torah observant Jews a la Wisdom of Solomon?). Each person has enough to worry about just keeping track of themselves. Each person is judged on the basis of their own works (the Bible is univocal that judgment is on the basis of works). 

While each person is responsible for themselves on judgment day, Paul reiterates that the community is responsible for its own. This time he focuses on support of those who teach. Even from the earliest times teachers were held in highest regard. A generous gift or payment by the congregation was seen as both natural and compulsory.

Verses 7-10 wrap up this section in an interesting way. Paul reaffirms the call to follow the Spirit as the sole guide for Christian life. Sowing in the Spirit yields life, meaning it produces the good works that will result in passing the final judgment. Sowing in the law yields death as it does not produce the fruit that are necessary. It cannot adequately restrain one from committing sins of the flesh. Thus, Paul urges the Galatians on in doing good, that is in walking in the Spirit, for the benefit of all around them, especially the community of faith.

[1] There is clearly an element of unexpectedness present in the being 'caught.' The question of whether the person accidentally fell into the sin (sin caught the person) or a person was surprisingly caught sinning (his being caught by the community). It's difficult to decide between the two, as either would fit the context, though I think the latter fits ever so slightly better. Hidden sin coming to light would be a bigger issue for the community to deal with and be more necessary for Paul to address.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Top 10 Burger Toppings

Long time readers of this blog will remember some of my prior top 10 lists. I'm going to try to bring them back, but rather than doing them monthly, I'll aim for quarterly. This quarter's top 10 list is the top 10 burger toppings. In the past the lists have been the compiled results of one to three of my co-workers. This time around, because the topic was so important, I pooled together the responses of eight individuals (including myself) to make it so that one person's preferences don't skew the whole list.

10. Mustard (19 pts): When combined with the right other toppings mustard gives a burger some good zip. McDonald's has perfected the use of mustard on a burger.

9. Avocado (20 pts): Sliced avocado is a nice topping on high quality burgers. It's mild flavor doesn't draw attention away from the meat.

8. Pickles (23 pts): Pickles are a must have on all fast food burgers (and Chik-fil-a sandwiches).

7. Lettuce (24 pts): Lettuce (along with cheese) was the item that appeared on the most lists, only being omitted once. It only comes it at number 7 because it doesn't rank highly on any list. The key with lettuce is that it is so versatile and almost never detracts from the experience.

6. Onions (25 pts): The nice thing with onions is that you can utilize them in a number of forms: raw, sauteed, or  deep fried. It all depends on what the burger calls for!

5. Ketchup (31 pts): When the burger comes off the grill at a barbecue the first thing I'm grabbing for is the ketchup.

4. Tomato (32 pts): This is the highest rated item that didn't appear on my personal list.  Tomato, much like lettuce, largely makes the list because of it's versatility.

3. BBQ Sauce (33 pts): After seeing the list one of my coworkers commented that when he starts a burger restaurant he's definitely featuring a barbecue bacon burger. My personal favorite burger is topped with bbq sauce, bacon, cheddar, and onion strings.

2. Bacon (46 pts): Bacon makes just about everything better, including burgers. The enhancement by its crispiness and moderate saltiness is almost unparalleled.

1. Cheese (57 pts): As you might have expected cheese was the runaway winner, taking three out of eight first place votes. The varieties of cheese available mean that there's always a cheese to go with the rest of your toppings. And in my opinion, a burger isn't a burger if it doesn't have cheese.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Book Review: The Dictionary of Christian Spirituality

Thanks to Zondervan for supplying me with a review copy and a slot in their blog tour.

Christian spirituality is an interesting topic to devote a dictionary to (and Zondervan isn't the first to do this). The church has historically pursued spirituality with intellectual vigor. Unfortunately, it seems to me that this is not the case as strongly as it was before. We have a bifurcation, spirituality as dissected in the academy and a pragmatic spirituality of the churches (at least in American low-church Evangelicalism). The goal of The Dictionary of Christian Spirituality is to provide an accessible resource that draws upon the rich spiritual history of the church as well as the advances in understanding that academic study of Scripture, theology, science, and other disciplines have brought.

The dictionary is split into two main parts. The first part contains thirty-four essays from four to seven pages in length covering major topics in Christian spirituality. These are wide ranging, from essays on 'Music and the Arts' to 'Byzantium and the East (600 - 1700)' to 'Grace and Spiritual Disciplines' to 'Contours of Evangelical Spirituality.' The vast majority of these are solid and very informative. Each of the topics covered were split into a half-dozen or sub-topics in which, depending on the subject of the essay, either briefly detailed the history of the topic or explained and evaluated the range of views on the matter. They also provided a bibliography of ten to twenty works if you wanted to read further on the topic

The second part of the dictionary contains typical dictionary entries. These are typically between a half a page and a page long. In terms of topic selections I thought that there were two major strengths. There are quite a few articles on various spiritualities. These include non-Christian spiritualities like Muslim and Native-American spirituality as well as Christian Spiritualities covering a specific geography, like Korean Christian Spirituality (which was very illuminating for me, in a Korean-American church setting). There also is a wealth of entries on different figures in church history, from Ignatious of Antioch all the way to contemporary people like Wolfhart Pannenberg. The insights to Christian spirituality that they had are explored. For figures from church history a a relevant, brief overview of their life is included.

I attempted to read a wide range of both essays and dictionary entries. Some of them were very, very good. However, there was a bit of a problem of unevenness both in quality and depth, especially among the dictionary entries. Some, like 'Knowledge of God' utilize a lot of undefined technical language. Others, like 'Lifestyle' are very basic, almost to the point of not being of much help. It seems like the dictionary could have used a stronger editorial hand to achieve a bit more uniformity.

Also, as I tried to think through how someone would use this book, I think that an organized index or table of contents would have been helpful, at least of the people covered in the dictionary entries. I know that this isn't usually done in dictionaries, but I think it would be helpful here because most people won't come to the dictionary wondering about the spirituality of William Penn. However, someone might come to the dictionary as their first step in researching Quaker spirituality. That person will probably never stumble across the entry on William Penn. If you had some sort of organized list of people covered in the dictionary, then they might.

With all of that said, I still have to say that I found The Dictionary of Christian Spirituality to be a useful resource. Pastors in a shepherding role dealing with spiritual formation would probably be the target audience and for them it would be a good addition to their libraries. It's a good, quick, non-technical resource that would aid in developing curriculum or as a starting point for personal study. The breadth of topics and ecumenical focus more than make up for any of its deficiencies.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Pannenberg on Risk, Community, and Spirituality

My review copy of the Dictionary of Christian Spirituality arrived in the mail Wednesday. I was flipping through it and the entry for Wolfhart Panneberg caught my eye. I'll quote a paragraph:

He recognized that those who seek to control their lives and to protect themselves from hurt inflicted by others or by the way the world works actually close themselves off from what God is seeking to do in their lives. Here Pannenberg built on the foundations laid by Martin Buber, a Jewish philosopher, and Karl Barth, a Reformed theologian. Living as we do in a dangerous world, Pannenberg discerned that safety, or at least the offer of safety, is a great temptation to compromise. However, it is only in "risking oneself outwards" toward the world, and ultimately toward God, that human beings find anything meaningful or worth living for. His writings help to frame the promise of Jesus, "Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it" (Matt. 16:25), in a way that contemporary Christian spirituality can understand and appropriate. This message is especially important for those living in the West with its inclination toward a highly individualized and risk-averse spirituality (Morton, Christopher 653).

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Book Review: The King Jesus Gospel

Thanks to Zondervan for a providing review copy and a spot in their blog tour.

For me, this summer has been a summer of reading Scot McKnight. I had the chance to read A Community Called Atonement (review forthcoming) and One.Life. Both of those were excellent books, so I was very excited to check out The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited. McKnight is a professor at North Park University and blogs over at Jesus Creed. As both an eminent New Testament scholar, a teacher of undergrads at a Christian university, and a man deeply committed to the church he leads the short list of those qualified to address the most important question that the church faces: 'has the church gotten the gospel right?'

Before jumping into that question, McKnight begins by pointing out that we have a major problem in evangelicalism (this book isn't written solely to evangelicals, but as McKnight is an evangelical, much of it is attempting to correct common evangelical errors). It's a problem that I think evangelicals need to face head-on. "I would contend there is minimal difference in correlation between evangelical children and teenagers ho make a decision for Christ and who later become genuine disciples, and Roman Catholics who are baptized as infants and who as adults become faithful and devout Catholic disciples" (20, emphasis original). He cites some statistics to go along with that claim. 90% of non-mainline protestants claim to have made a decision for Jesus, but only 20% actually become disciples (20 - here McKnight cites research by the Barna group). Even if those numbers are a little off, it's still a massive, massive problem. Other segments of Christianity are doing as poorly or even worse. McKnight's contention is that we're in this situation because we've lost our grasp on what the gospel actually is.

McKnight then moves into asking the question, 'what is the gospel?' often asking other related questions along the way. One of them is, 'did both Jesus and Paul preach the gospel?' Something McKnight points out is usually what has been meant by this question is, 'did Jesus preach Paul's gospel - justification by faith'. At the end of chapter one McKnight gives us one of his main contentions, 'the word gospel has been hijacked by what we believe about "personal salvation," and the gospel itself has been reshaped to facilitate making "decisions."' (26 - emphasis original).

In the second chapter McKnight extends his line of reasoning here. He contends that the gospel is the story of Jesus as the completion to the story of Israel. We (Evangelicals, Mainline Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox) have instead reduced the gospel down to the plan of salvation and packaged it through various methods of persuasion that we use to coerce conversions (he even suggests that Evangelicals should change their names to Soterians). Here lies the problem. What motivation do these converts have to be disciples? Why doesn't the gospel lead to more transformation in people's lives? It's because we've gotten the gospel wrong.

The next five chapters seek to correct that deficiency by taking us back to the Bible to reexamine what Paul, Jesus, and Peter (in Acts) tell us the gospel is, as well as looking at church history to see how we got to this point. One of the questions he asks in this section I think is critical and so often overlooked. Why did the early Christians feel it appropriate to call Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John 'gospels?' The answer should be obvious. They all are the gospel, because the gospel is the proclamation of the story of Jesus, and not just his sinlessness, death, and resurrection. All of the gospels are the gospel because they are a proclamation of the story of Jesus as the resolution to Israel's story. McKnight also finds the same pattern in the preaching of Paul and Peter. They proclaim Jesus as the resolution to Israel's story, a story that begins with creation and ends with the consummation of all things. One point of clarification is needed here. In none of these statements is McKnight saying that what we typically call the gospel (the plan of salvation) is incorrect. He's simply (but importantly!) saying that it's not the gospel. In the end, for McKnight, the gospel isn't about 'sin management' (a line he borrows from Dallas Willard), rather it's a summons to confess and completely follow King Jesus. Jesus status as Messiah and Lord is an absolutely critical element of the gospel.

Chapters nine and ten address our contemporary setting, giving us guidance on some practical matters related to our gospeling, and develop a little further some of the elements of the gospel unearthed previously. Two points that he makes in the eighth chapter are particularly worth mention. First, we need to remember what problem the gospel is seeking to solve. It's not primarily aimed at dealing with an individual's sin (though it does do that). The main problem is that God's kingdom is not manifest in this world as it should be, and that death reigns. Second is the reiteration of what he has said all along. 'The book of Acts reveals that gospeling was not driven by the salvation story or the atonement story. It was driven by the Story of Israel, and in fact makes most sense in that story' (134).

The tenth and final chapter brings the book to a fitting close. McKnight clearly and eloquently proclaims the gospel to us and then makes some suggestions on how we can transform our churches to have a gospel culture. Much of it revolves around, you guessed it, Jesus and story. We need to immerse ourselves in the story of Jesus and see our story as the church as a continuation of the story of Jesus and the story of Israel. After the tenth chapter there are three brief but very helpful appendices that give the full text of Paul's gospel summaries, the full text of the sermons in Acts, and a short snippet from Justin Martyr.

The sketch above is a very brief overview of the book that hopefully provokes some questions, and unfortunately flattens out some of the nuance of McKnight's positions. McKnight certainly isn't the first one to say some of the things said in The King Jesus Gospel, but the depth and clarity with which he presents his view is a big part of what makes this book so important. In his main contention, that we've misconstrued the gospel, McKnight is dead on and we need to join him reexamining what the Bible tells us the gospel is.

I think it's particularly important for us to ask what the role of the Old Testament is in our gospel preaching. Why is the Old Testament part of our Scriptures? McKnight shows that it's more than just a mere pointer to Christ. Jesus fulfills the Old Testament. The prophecies aren't there to primarily aid in identifying who the Messiah is, as if they were a random check list. The Old Testament story is going somewhere, and the way that plot develops is critical to our gospel proclamation.

I also really appreciated McKnight's comments on method. Our job isn't to be the most persuasive salespeople we can be. Our job is to faithfully proclaim Jesus, the king.

When reading A Community Called Atonement, I told my wife, 'if I could write a book this is the book I would want to write.' McKnight's works often seem to scratch right where I itch. The same is definitely true with The King Jesus Gospel. I found reading it to be a deeply enriching and encouraging experience. The church needs this book and I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy and read it prayerfully to see how God can use you in bringing a culture shift within the church, a refocusing of our proclamation on Jesus, Israel's Messiah and Lord of all.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Paul's Argument in Galatians 5:13-26

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
 16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
 19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
Here Paul continues the argument begun at the start of chapter 5. Specifically, the opening verses tie back to 5:6. Paul's main goal here is two-fold. He wants to deal with actual problems in Galatia and head off criticism of his gospel. It appears that the Galatians were having problems within the community. They weren't displaying the love and other regard that communities led by the Spirit should display. Paul know he needs to correct this, especially as the Teachers had come in and seen the problems and proposed a solution: Torah. Torah would act both to restrain behavior but also act as the source of identity.

Paul will have nothing to do with that line of thinking. The Galatians were freed from the law. However, that freedom wasn't freedom to do whatever they wanted. It was to serve one another in love. The Galatians had been told this before, but it hadn't fully settled. Perhaps the explicitness of the law had appeal to the Galatians. But even then, a life of service to one another in the Spirit fulfills the law. Paul recognizes God's will in the law, but insists that it's fullest expression is the command to love (so Fee). The Galatians just needed to be reminded and buy in.

Paul goes on to contrast two lists, one of virtues and the other of vices. It's absolutely critical that we see that these identify community traits. Communities that are lead by the Spirit don't look like 'x' but like 'y.' This comes through very clearly when we look at the list of vices. Eight of the fifteen items deal with obviously interpersonal issues. Yes the individuals in the communities need to have the fruit of the Spirit for the community to exhibit it, but it must be exhibited at the community level. Discipleship is not an individual matter. The church is a discipleship collective.

I am going to refrain from commenting on the lists individually as I think it's fairly clear what most of the vices and virtues are. Paul closes by reinforcing what he said previously, but he makes an important clarification along the way. By contrasting the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit it may mislead one to think that discipleship is a passive process. Verse 24 should show how mistaken that thinking is. We are active participants, crucifying the things that would lead to a community that is out of step with the Spirit and reflects our sinful tendencies.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Scot McKnight on the Problem the Gospel Solves

But I would urge us to think much more deeply about the problem that the gospel resolved in light of our study so far. If the Story of Israel finds its completion in the Story of Jesus and if that is the gospel, we must find the problem within the contours of Israel's Story and not just in my needs in my story. We need to find the problem behind the solution Jesus offered. Jesus word for the solution is the kingdom, or, if we frame it as John did, eternal life (which, too, is more than personally living forever with God after we die). If kingdom is the solution, the problem was about the search for God's kingdom on earth and the problem was the absence of God's kingdom on earth. If eternal life is the solution, then the problem was death and the absence of God's abundant life and the worldliness of this world (The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited p. 137).
 Review coming soon...

Monday, September 12, 2011

Revamping the Masters of Divinity Degree

Seminary is something that I think about a lot. In part because I've done some course work there (at TEDS). In part because several friends have completed seminary, are going through it now, hope to go, or hoped to go. It's a frustratingly long program. Brian LePort's post a few weeks back rekindled my thinking process to the point that I would like to propose what a Master of Divinity curriculum would look like if I were the one designing the program from scratch.

First, I think we can shorten the program a little bit, trimming it down to 78 credit hours. This makes it doable in three years or less for everybody who attends full time. This is largely done by reducing the number of electives, but also by applying some trimming in a couple of places (specifics below). Second, the curriculum hopefully would have a little bit of a liberal arts type of feel. Classes hopefully would be taught and designed to encourage pastors to be life long learners. The biggest challenge is that a Master's of Divinity in some senses is a 'professional degree' and in some sense isn't. Any curriculum needs to walk a fine line there. However, seminary is not trade school. It should not seek to replace the things that churches are supposed to be doing to train their future leaders. It is an academic institution that should be seeking to give future and current pastors the training of the mind necessary to be effective ministers. I think some discussions about seminary veer off course because people don't understand or like the purpose of seminaries.

Here's how I would structure things. First, I would have two distinct tracks, one for those who want an MDiv and intend to go on for a PhD, and another for those who want to enter into pastoral ministry. The tracks would share a large core of courses together, but there would be two areas where they differ. First, introductory languages would be taught differently depending on your track. Pastors will learn the language alongside Bible software like Logos, Accordance, or Bible Works (for the record I am in love with Accordance, though I've never used the others). Pastors are going to forget the finer points of the languages over time, so give them something that will help them excel at the basics (this is no different than teaching statistics students how to do regression analysis using SPSS - something regularly done in most universities). If you're going the academic route, then you better learn the languages inside out. The second area of difference lies in the concentration. There will be a different concentration depending on your area of focus, pastoral ministry (perhaps even different focuses depending on the type of ministry) and academic ministry (definitely different focuses depending on your desired field of study). The specifics of the concentration areas as well as the specifics of the rest of the curriculum are laid out below.

Languages (12 credits following the two track approach outlined above)
Introductory Greek: 3 credits x 2 semesters
Introductory Hebrew 3 credits x 2 semesters

New Testament (12 credits)
Gospels: 4 credits
Acts and Paul: 4 credits
General Epistles: 4 credits

Old Testament (12 credits)
Pentateuch: 4 credits
Historical Books and Wisdom Literature: 4 credits
Prophets: 4 credits

The OT and NT classes form the backbone of the curriculum, where you would not only learn the texts, but also learn theological interpretation, historical exegesis, and background. For example in the class on the gospels, you would cover not just the gospels, but also 2nd temple Judaism and you would learn exegetical tools to help you understand narratives. Yes, you would learn exegesis piecemeal this way, but I don't think many pastors do hardcore Greek or Hebrew exegesis. Students going on for a PhD could take an advanced exegesis course to shore up any deficiencies.

Religion (22 credits)
World Religions: 3 credits

Church History (2 semesters): 2x3 credits
American Church History: 1 credit

Western Theology: 4 credits
Non-Western Theology: 3 credits
Development of a Doctrine (say atonement) Through History: 2 credits
Ethics: 3 credits

I think that there's a lot of 'fat' in most ST programs. The typical three semester course can be trimmed to one covering the truly major topics (creation, sin, atonement, eschatology, ecclesiology, sacraments, scripture, trinity, christology, and pneumatology). Also, every seminary needs a required course on world religions and non-western theology. Period.

Counseling/Psychology (4 credits)
Introduction to Psychology: 2 credits
Introduction to Counseling: 2 credits

Whether you're a pastor or a professor you'll be involved in counseling. Many pastors enter ministry under-prepared, often not knowing when they don't know enough.

Spiritual Formation (1 credit)
Spiritual Formation Groups: (0 credits - every semester enrolled if traditional student)
Holiness: 1 credit

Electives (6 credits)

The core curriculum ends here. Below I'll outline two possible paths for ministry focus. The first will be the pastoral ministry focus. The second will be for someone going on for academic ministry in Systematic Theology.

Ministry Focus (9 credits)

Pastoral Track
Counseling Elective (perhaps marriage counseling): 1 credit
Sociology: 2 credits
Worship: 2 credits
Denominational History: 1 credit
Field Education: 4 credits

A note on the field eds. You would have three of them, and two would also have seminars associated with them to try to integrate theory and praxis. One would be a preaching field ed. You'd have seminars on preaching, but you would also have to work with your local pastor and preach in your church. The second would be on church administration. A very significant amount of nearly every pastor's week is spent on administrative tasks, but seminaries often provide no training. You would learn the basics in a few seminars meanwhile working with a local pastor gaining an appreciation for all that goes on unseen to make everything run smoothly. The last field ed would be a traditional internship.

Systematic Theology
A Great Theologian (say Barth, Aquinas, Augustine): 3 credits
Philosophy Topic (say Language, Mind, Society): 3 credits
Field Education: 3 credits

Here I'm not exactly sure how to structure the field eds, but 3 of them have to be done says ATS. Perhaps one could be on pedagogy, with the student teaching a class session in the Western Theology course.

Is this proposal perfect? I'm sure it's not, but I think (and hope) that it still meets the goals of reducing credit hours and improving the curriculum. What do you think?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Galatians: Augustine on Fornication and Love

Augustine, commenting on the vice and virtue lists of Galatians 5:
He put fornication at the head of the carnal vices and love at the head of the spiritual virtues. Anyone who takes pains in the study of divine Scripture will be prompted will be prompted to inquire attentively to the rest. Fornication is love divorced from legitimate wedlock. It roves everywhere in search of an opportunity to fulfill its lust.Yet nothing is so rightly suited for spiritual procreation as the union of the Soul with God. The more firmly it adheres, the more blameless it is. Love is what enables it to cleave. Rightly then the opposite of fornication is love. It is he sole means by which chastity is observed (Galatians 85).

I haven't come across any other commentators so far (I've only looked at Longenecker, Dunn, and Martyn) discussing if there's a possible link between the heads of each of Paul's lists in Galatians 5, and I'm curious if there is. I've been wondering why the early church chose agape as the word to use to describe love when the verb form, prior to the New Testament, was used to describe sex. Is there any sense in which Paul is depending on that meaning here? Did the word simply change meanings and the old meaning disappear? Does any sexual overtone survive in other NT uses? I have no idea, but Augustine's quote is interesting to think about.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Paul's Argument in Galatians 5:1-12

1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

7 You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? 8 That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. 9 “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” 10 I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty. 11 Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. 12 As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves! (NIV)

In many ways this section presents the whole letter in a nutshell. He begins by reiterating what he has said in several different ways in chapter four. If you think that anything other than faith in Jesus is necessary to be a full member of the people of God then you're mistaken. Any attempt to conform to Jewish identity in order to ensure full acceptance undoes the work of Christ on the cross and makes it worthless for you. For Paul both non-Christian Jews and pagan Gentiles are in the same boat, on the outside of God's new creation and looking in.

The issue for Paul here is one of identity. Where is your identity found? The teachers were telling there converts that they needed to add Jewish identity onto their identity as followers of the Messiah (this isn't as ridiculous as it sounds - the Messiah, and Paul, and the 12, and Abraham were all Jewish). In verse three Paul warns the Galatians that you only get one identity. It's all or nothing. The status we hope for isn't manifest here and now by practices of the Torah (or any other cultural standard of morality), rather it's in an active faith. Verse 6 is probably a quick mini response to the claim that not requiring works of Torah would lead to sinful behavior. No, because faith in the Messiah expresses or manifests itself in actions that mirror the way of life of the Messiah.

Verses 7-10 have the function of softening some of the blow that he has periodically laid on the Galatians. He's called them foolish among other things. Here he places the blame squarely on the Teachers for this debacle. He encourages them to resist and even tells them that he knows that they'll make the right decision. One of the toughest verses to crack in the entire letter is verse 11. The most likely interpretation (Dunn provides a nice overview pp. 278-80) is that the Teachers told the Galatians that he did not preach circumcision to the Gentiles (this interpretation implies that the congregation is largely Gentile - which makes sense overall) but that he did to the Jews. This may be based on his circumcision of Timothy reported in Acts 16:3. Still it's hard to know what they thought this, and Paul is shocked by the suggestion too.

Paul closes the section with a rather ribald joke. It's important to understand, additionally, that eunuchs and those with deformed penises were excluded from the Jewish assembly. Dunn summarizes this verse well, 'It has the force of a reductio ad absurdum argument: one slice of the knife = acceptability to God; another slice of the knife = total unacceptability to God' (284).

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

More Thoughts on the Relationship Between Theology and History

In my last post I asked what the relationship between history and theology should look like. I have two brief points to further that discussion, and neither of them novel (sorry). First, our theology needs to be informed by historical exegesis as NT Wright among others has reminded us. In particular, the church has repeatedly fallen through the trap door of de-Judaizing the Bible. The story of the Bible is a thoroughly Jewish story (and even that's imprecise as it's several Jewish stories from across centuries) and is only understandable as a Jewish story. It also is the story of Israel. If we don't wrestle with those realities then our theology will be (at best) tangential to, rather than reflective upon the revelation of the speaking God we find in the Scriptures.

At the same time, I feel as if historians want to put everybody in a straight jacket. Theology (as Dale Allison points out) has to deal with far more than history or even historical exegesis. History plays a role in illuminating the original intentions of the writers of the New Testament. The role of theology is then to construct from that basis and to use many other tools at its disposal. Theology must be allowed to go beyond the text. It must use Scripture creatively and demonstrate faithful improvisation. Our gaping distance from the world of the Bible doesn't make it irrelevant, it simply reinforces that history and original meaning ain't even close to enough.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Dale Allison on the Relationship Between History and Theology

I have just finished Dale Allison's latest book, Constructing Jesus: Memory, Imagination, and History. It is a great book and I'll hopefully write two or three posts reflecting on elements of it. First, I'd like to briefly discuss parts of the last three paragraphs of the book, as for me they were the most significant.
We should be grateful, then, that the so-called historical Jesus is only one of numerous theological resources, and far from the most important. Consider the present volume, which, if the author is any good at introspection, is much more the product of historical curiosity and professional habits of mind than of theological aspirations. Even if, let us say, a Christian reader is cheered by my case that Jesus had an exalted self-conception, christological reflection is much more than what the first-century Jesus is likely to have thought or said about himself. Would that it were so easy. Christology must wrestle with Paul, study the Cappadocians, engage modern philosophy, and do much else besides...To do history is not to do theology.

Although I have no desire to contract the circle of my readers, it seems to me both vain and inane that a book such as this can contribute to our knowledge of God, or that it should draw much attention from the theologians. Even though the quest has served many of us a s a wake-up call from our dogmatic slumbers, it is no substitute for constructive theology. It can be, at best, only prologue.

While it may be an "emotional necessity to exalt the problem to which one wants to devote a lifetime," and while I am proudly a historian, I must confess that history is not what matters most. If my deathbed finds me alert and not overly racked with pain, I will then be preoccupied with how I have witnessed and embodied faith, hope, and charity. I will not be fretting over the historicity of this or that part of the Bible (462).
I won't comment much on this quote except to say that I think it's largely right. To borrow a metaphor from NT Wright, I want to do theology with all of the pieces of the puzzle on the table. That assuredly includes the pieces that result from historical study, even if they're a minority of the pieces. However that does not get us all (or even most) of the way there. We need to remember (as I've written before) that ultimately the Jesus of the church is the Jesus of the canonical gospels, not the Jesus of modern historical reconstructions. So what role does history play in the task of theology? I'll discuss that next time. But for now I'd like to express my appreciation for the work of Dale Allison. I've always found his historical work to be a helpful aid for theological reflection.