Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Question on Free Will

I'm off to Florida today, but thought I would post part of an email question I received from Benjamin Roberts yesterday:

"An acquaintance of mine has recently turned Calvinist and in my longing for unity I shared that I think I might be a compatibilist. Not long after this he wrote me and told me that I was just a calvinist with a different name. The small amount I've read on compatibilism led me to the conclusion that Scripture teaches God's sovereignty and also man's free will and that they aren't mutually exclusive. But I fear my understanding may have been too limited and I may have made an error in calling myself this."

First, some definitions:
compatibilism--The idea that free will and determinism are compatible. Usually free will is defined as the freedom to act here rather than true freedom to will. In other words, I am not coerced to keep typing. But the question of whether forces inside the chemistry of my brain are forcing me in effect to keep typing.

Some compatibilists would say that it makes no sense to say that I might not act in accordance with my beliefs and convictions, for example. If I were fully free, I might make a different decision with exactly the same conditions internally and externally. This position is sometimes called soft determinism.

Incompatibilism--The idea that free will and determinism are not compatible.

Libertarianism (in this context)--The idea that I am free not only to act but to will as well.

_________________
It seems to me that compatibilism is very "compatible" with Calvinism in most of its forms. So a Calvinist might say that since we are all totally depraved, we all freely act in conjunction with our nature. No one coerces me to sin but I have a sin nature.

I suppose orthodoxy takes a somewhat compatibilist approach to God's nature as well. God freely acts in accordance with His nature, but could not do otherwise, could not lie, for example, for He would never want to lie.

My sense of God's sovereignty has led me to wonder if God is not truly free if this is the case, so I pose that God binds himself to His "nature" in this universe, but theoretically might choose another nature in another creation.

I am also open to the possibility that determinism and full free will might be compatible within God, outside this creation. They seem incompatible within this creation.

I personally like John Wesley's conjecture about free will and salvation the best (put here in my own terms). At points in our lives, God empowers our true free will to the point where we can make "ex nihilo" decisions whether to accept or not to accept His grace. If we make the right choices to the right degree, He empowers us to choose the good (or perhaps "changes our nature") while still being able to choose the bad.

I doubt that we have full free will on every issue, however, and there is probably more truth than we would like to admit to something called hard incompatibilism--the idea that with quantum randomness, neither free will nor determinism makes sense.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Still Debating Whether to Sign up for Hebrews?

I believe we currently have 6 students signed up for the opensource course in Hebrews. I also have confirmed that the powerpoint/vodcasts will be available through IWU's space on Adobe Connect for anyone to check in.

1. Here's the welcome message I recorded yesterday... It's already on the course page, which I'm running from http://www.kenschenck.com/hebrews.html.

video


2. Cost
Non-Minister: $1020 total for 3 hours credit
Minister: $660 total for 3 hours credit
Wesleyan Minister: $437 total for 3 hours credit
(Can you believe how inexpensive master's religion courses are at Indiana Wesleyan University?)

To sign up for this course just copy the following:
How can I go about signing up for Ken Schenck’s online graduate Hebrews course?
Then paste it into this email: click here to send Karen Clark your email.


3. Syllabus
For those of you (you know who you are) who need to use Greek, I will draft a special syllabus option.

Here's the default syllabus as it stands:

MIN 596
Advanced Theoretical Issues in Ministry: The Book of Hebrews (3 hours)
Dr. Ken Schenck

Course Description
This course is an in depth exploration of the New Testament book of Hebrews from an interpretive, theological, practical, and pastoral perspective.

Course Objectives
By the end of this course, you should be able to
1. Explain the most basic options for the original meaning of Hebrews and the flow of its argument.

2. Defend your own positions on the meaning of Hebrews.

3. Integrate the content of Hebrews with your understanding of Christian theology and practice.

4. Preach and teach effectively and with integrity from the book of Hebrews.

Course Textbooks
Required:
1. Lindars, Barnabas, The Theology of the Letter to the Hebrews (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1991).

2. Schenck, Kenneth, Understanding the Book of Hebrews (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2003).

Choose Three of the Following:
1. deSilva, David, Perseverance in Gratitude: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Epistle “to the Hebrews” (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000).

2. Johnson, Luke Timothy, Hebrews: A Commentary (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2006).

3. Koester, Craig, Hebrews (New York: Doubleday, 2001).

4. Lane, William, Hebrews 1-8 and Hebrews 9-13 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1991)

5. Witherington, Ben III, Letters and Homilies for Jewish Christians (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2007).

6. Attridge, Harold, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1989).

Course Requirements
1. Watching Video-Lectures
Incorporated into each week of the course is a video-lecture that you will watch. You will be expected to engage with Schenck’s commentary lecture when you compare and evaluate the commentaries on your (public) team commentary blog.

2. (Public) Team Commentary Blogging (400 points)
In addition to Schenck’s video lecture, you will compare three other commentators on Hebrews on the passage of the week, often addressing a specific question. You will make a 500 word post on your team blog and make responses to posts by other members of the class.

3. (Private) Team Application Blogging (200 points)
Crucial to the class is the application of Hebrews’ material both in our theology and practice. Each week you will make a 300 word post on a private team blog on how the passage of the week might relate to our contemporary theology or practice, ending with some thoughts on how you might preach or teach from the passage in question. You will then make responses to posts from other members of the class.

4. Miscellaneous Assignments (200 points)
The course includes three miscellaneous assignments: 1) a survey of Hebrews, following a method presented in the first week (50 points), 2-3) two 5-10 page book review/evaluations, one of Barnabas Lindars’ book, The Theology of the Letter to the Hebrews, and the other of Ken Schenck’s book, Understanding the Book of Hebrews (75 points each)

5. A Final Exam (200 points)
At the end of the course, you will take an open book, timed exam online. It will mainly test a) your knowledge of the content of Hebrews and b) your knowledge of the assigned reading, video lectures, and your team discussions.

Course Evaluation
400 points – Commentary/Lecture Blog
200 points – Application Blog
200 points – Miscellaneous Assignments
200 points – Final Exam

Scale
950-1000 A
900-949 A-
870-899 B+
830-869 B
800-829 B-
770-799 C+
730-769 C
700-729 C-
670-699 D+
600-669 D
599 below F

Course Schedule
Workshop 1 (Jan. 8-14): “The Situation of Hebrews”

Workshop 2 (Jan. 15-21): The Sermon in a Nutshell: Hebrews 1:1-4

Workshop 3 (Jan. 22-28): Announcing God's Solution: Hebrews 1:5-2:18

Workshop 4 (Jan. 29-Feb. 4): Keep Going to the End: Hebrews 3:1-4:13

Workshop 5 (Feb. 5-11): Announcing a New Priest: Hebrews 4:14-5:10

Workshop 6 (Feb. 12-18): Don't Fall Away: Hebrews 5:11-6:20

Workshop 7 (Feb. 19-25): A Change of Law: Hebrews 7:1-28

Workshop 8 (Feb. 26-March 10): A Change of Covenant: Hebrews 8:1-13

Workshop 9 (March 11-17): A Change of Sanctuary: Hebrews 9:1-28

Workshop 10 (March 18-24): An Effective Sacrifice: Hebrews 10:1-18

Workshop 11 (March 25-31): Persist in Faith: Hebrews 10:19-11:40

Workshop 12 (April 1-7): Endure God's Discipline: Hebrews 12:1-29

Workshop 13 (April 8-14): Sending the Sermon: Hebrews 13:1-25

Workshop 14 (April 15-23): Summing Up Hebrews

There's still time! To sign up, email us...

Merry Christmas!

I won't be posting regularly this week, but wanted to wish everyone in blogland a Merry (or if you're in England a Happy) Christmas!

Here are some quick thoughts on the significance of Christmas:

1. Christmas is God's love for the world.
For God so loved the world that he gave His only Son... Jesus came to earth because God loves us. As Steve deNeff put it, God would have come to earth even if Adam hadn't sinned. He likes to be with us.

2. Christmas is the beginning of our salvation.
... that whoever believes in him will not perish. The Word became flesh and dwelled among us... The law came through Moses. Grace ... came through Jesus Christ.

3. Christmas is the supreme revelation of God.
Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. The Bible is God's word in the sense of human words. But Jesus is the Word of God par excellence. Jesus is the supreme revelation of who God is, a revelation that is more powerful and fundamental than human words could represent.

4. Christmas shows God's identification with our pain.
In Luke's gospel especially, Jesus' birth is the embodiment of good news to the poor, the oppressed, those whom evil has tormented in a material way.

5. Christmas models how we are to live together.
Regardless of the original meaning, Christians see in the Philippian hymn a picture of the incarnation: Although Christ existed in the form of God, he did not consider that equality with God something to exploit, but he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant. So we are to live together, not as more and less powerful individuals but as servants who consider others better than yourself.

6. Christmas anticipates the kingdom of God.
In Matthew's gospel especially, Jesus' birth is revealed to be the birth of a king. The wise men give the gifts of a king, and Herod the king fears that his rule is in danger. When Christ returns a second time to earth, he will set the world right.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Review 13: Conclusion to Piper's Future of Justification

Today we reach the conclusion of John Piper's response to Tom Wright: The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright. As I said in the last post, however, there are six appendices to knock out before Christmas. In these Piper presents what might have been another book entirely, but obviously in condensed form.

By the way, Scot McKnight had a link on his website today with a wonderful interview with Tom Wright. If you want to know his thinking, just read through this very, very good synopsis:
http://trevinwax.com/2007/11/19/trevin-wax-interview-with-nt-wright-full-transcript/
His thought should seem very familiar to you if you read through it!

Conclusion: Is the Reformation Over?
Wright turns out to be pessimistic of any raproachment between Protestantism and Catholicism on several issues. But on the issue of justification, he believes both sides have misconceived the nature of justification. Since justification is not about how a person becomes a Christian but is the declaration that one is a Christian. So for Wright, the case is closed. If both Catholic and Protestant have been declared a part of the people of God, then they are both justified.

Piper then points out some Catholic statements on justification with which he cannot agree. Of course he does not agree with Wright's definition of justification either, so the debate is still on for him. The Catholic Church believes, "Justification is conferred in Baptism ... It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who makes us inwardly just by the power of his mercy" (Piper, 182).

Piper of course objects to the idea that we become inwardly just as a part of what we call justification. Rather justification involves the imputation of Christ's justness. I should add that Piper has made it clear that we do become more just by the power of the Spirit, but it is important for him not to include this at all under the heading of justification (no doubt he would place it under the heading of sanctification).

As I process this debate, I would say that

1) justification is usually located biblically around the time of baptism. But of course the explicitly narrated baptisms of the NT are adult baptisms (it is possible there are implicit baptisms of children in Acts). Roman Catholics believe in baptismal regeneration and practice infant baptism. I dissociate baptism from justification.

2) I do believe that the Spirit will make us inwardly just in association with our justification. I would not call this justification. So in that sense I do think the Catholic statement says something different than Paul does.

But in reality there is a good deal of commonality between what the Roman Catholic Church believes on justification and what Protestants believe. This commonality is captured well in The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church. In it the catholics affirm their belief in justification by faith and through grace.

I have said it before and now say it again. The fact that the NT books consistently teach that a person can be in the people of God and yet be rejected at the judgment undermines the entire Calvinist system. Rather, the NT consistently urges its audiences to "make your calling and election sure" (2 Pet. 1:10), a non-sensical command in Piper's theology.

So Piper is welcome to invoke Luther's "Here I Stand." But he is standing in the wrong place on some of these issues.

As a final footnote, I do think it is time for many Protestants to get over this "catholics aren't Christians" thing. A Christian, in the people of God sense, is someone who has been reconciled to God through Christ, a reconciliation made possible through God's love manifested on the cross and His power manifested in the resurrection. When God quickens our hearts to Him, this gracious reconciliation results from our faith in what He has done in Christ. Most of us believe that God's love includes within His embrace all those whose hearts He has not yet quickened (e.g., children).

John Wesley set a model attitude for us toward other Christians: "If your heart is as my heart, then give me your hand." I am surprised that some in my own Wesleyan circles would turn God's priorities upside down as if it were more important to God for our heads to be right than our hearts. If this were true then God would lead all believers eventually to believe the same things. They do not, even though we will find holy elders in almost every church whose hearts are full of "perfect" love yet whose theology is not the same.

And so it is an affrontery to the nature of God for us to disdain others with the heart of Christ. We can disagree with their thoughts, we can fight their thoughts vigorously--as I do. But I must love John Piper and I must love Tom Wright, for in the way that counts, their hearts are as my heart.

Are there Roman Catholics who have trusted in what God's love for us did in the death and resurrection of Christ? Even to ask such a question is ludicrous. Let us dismiss such ridiculous talk from our lips! If the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control, then these are the tell-tale signs of a Christian. Note that these are all attitudes of the heart, not the head. Anyone who suggests Christianity is primarily a matter of our heads has not listened to much of the NT and has twisted what little they have. Yes, faith in Christ is essential--if it is true faith, these are the signs.

It is thus those who use the name of Christ who hate, are disgruntled, unsettled, impatient, hateful, harmful, inconstant, rough, and licenscious whose Christianity is in question. Obviously ideas are important to me or I would not write a series like this one--so don't twist what we're saying into some relativistic or pluralistic puddle. There are right answers to our questions and they are important.

They are just not the most important thing.

So a Wheaton might have to kick out a professor if they convert to Catholicism. But when the subject does not involve teaching doctrine, I hope none of our Wesleyan colleges would reject a candidate who had true faith in Christ, was truly orthodox in belief, truly respected our Wesleyan-Arminian theology, was the best candidate for the job, and happened to be Catholic. I can't think of a legitimate basis to reject such a candidate. To do otherwise is for us to exalt our values over Christ's values and to reject the Spirit of Christ.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Friday Review: Chapter 11 of Piper's Future of Justification 13

And so we reach the final chapter of the main part of John Piper's book, The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright. Don't get your hopes up too much--there's still a conclusion and 6 appendices to go :-)

Chapter 11 is titled, "That in Him We Might Become the Righteousness of God." In other words, Piper is going to address Tom Wright's interpretation of 2 Corinthians 5:21 in this chapter:

1. 2 Corinthians 5:21
"The one who had not known sin, [God] made [to become] sin for us, so that we ourselves might become the righteousness of God in him."

This verse is potentially a great test case in the pre-understanding that we all bring to texts. My reaction to Wright's interpretation was pretty much the same as Piper's when I first came across it. Isn't the meaning of this verse obvious?

Christ goes from righteous to sinful (putatively).
We go from sinful to righteous (putatively).

Morna Hooker wrote a famous article in New Testament Studies called "Interchange in Christ" on this verse.

But Wright argues the following in What Saint Paul Really Said. The phrase "the righteousness of God" is a phrase with a history. Any Jew that heard it would immediately have thought of God's faithfulness to His covenant with Israel. Accordingly, Wright understands the verse to say this:

Christ atones for our sin as a sin offering...
which demonstrates God's righteousness, His faithfulness to redeem Israel...
where Christ is understood to be the embodiment of Israel...
and believers are all in Christ.

Now I would agree that "covenant faithfulness" probably is not the most apt description of the righteousness of God here (as I mentioned in an earlier post). I noted that in Paul: A Fresh Perspective Wright uses the phrase "covenant justice," which is no doubt ambiguous but better in some respects.

But I eventually came around to agree largely with Wright, minus his more idiosyncratic points. I take the train of thought to be:

Christ atones for our sin as a sin offering...
which demonstrates God's righteousness,
which is not only his justice but also His propensity to redeem and save not only Israel but all humanity.

I agree with two out of Wright's three arguments for this interpretation of the phrase "the righteousness of God" here (set out by Piper on p. 175):

a. Wright holds that the phrase "the righteousness of God" is a technical term meaning "covenant faithfulness."

I agree with this statement with the tweak I mention above. I already have presented the argument that this phrase had a known definition in Paul's day in my review of chapter 3.

I might say that I am open to the possibility that Paul intended some sort of a double entendre here and in Romans. Since I think there was a default dictionary entry for this phrase in Paul's dictionary, I come out with Wright as far as the primary meaning of the phrase.

But it is certainly conceivable, given that human righteousness is also a major feature of Paul's argument, that Paul meant the reader to see a double entendre somewhat along traditional lines.

By the way, one critique of Piper's position--that this verse is about the imputation of Christ's righteousness, a balanced exchange--is that the verse does not speak of the righteousness of Christ. It does not say, God made Christ who had not sinned to be sinful so that we might take on the righteousness of Christ. Rather, God offers Christ as a sin offering (cf. Rom. 3:25) so that we might become God's righteousness. You see how Piper has not seen the correlation correctly.

Piper rightly questions the role of the phrase "in him" then--"so that we might become the righteousness of God in him." May I not chastise Piper too much for his read of this verse for it is compact, poetic, and very ambiguous from where we sit today. I believe, however, that if we will look at this clause grammatically, we will see what Paul is saying:

The heart of the clause, subject and verb is "we might become."

"The righteousness of God" is a predicate nominative with a modifying word.

Now, "in him" is a prepositional phrase that is functioning adverbially, that is, it tells us something about the verb "might become." It does not modify "righteousness"--we do not become the righteousness in him. Rather in him we become the righteousness of God.

In other words, Paul is telling us where we come to demonstrate the righteousness of God, namely, when we are "in Christ."

After I have said that about 2 Corinthians 5:21, there are other verses that do seem to imply that it is the fact that I am "in Christ" that I can be justified. It is not a "real transference of righteousness" in the manner of Piper's understanding of imputation, but it is a putative reckoning of me as righteous in Christ.

Let me hold off on such verses for a few moments.

b. A second argument Wright offers for his understanding of 2 Corinthians 5:21 is that this understanding fits the train of thought in 2 Corinthians 5.

This fact pushed me over to Wright's side. If we think back to Romans 1:16-17 where Paul uses the phrase righteousness of God, there Paul says that "I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God leading to salvation for everyone who has faith... For in it the righteousness of God is revealed..."

In other words, the aspect of God's righteousness that Paul highlights the most in Romans is His propensity to save not only His people but in fact all humanity. Now, what is 2 Corinthians 5 about:

"That God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not counting [humanity's] transgressions to them and having placed the message of reconciliation among us" (2 Cor. 5:19).

Then I came to agree with Wright. This passage really is about God's righteousness as it is properly understood against the backdrop of Isaiah and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

c. Wright's third point is that if 5:21 is about humans becoming righteous, then the idea just pops up out of nowhere. Here I think Piper is right to suggest that the idea is not foreign to the train of thought (e.g., 5:15). In fact, I have already mentioned that I am open to overtones of these ideas latent in the verse, even if it is not the primary sense.

2. Romans 5:18-19 and Galatians 2:20
I mentioned above that there are other verses that do indicate that we are considered righteous because we are "in Christ" and in his "faithfulness" in particular. This is slightly different than Piper's argument, for a real and absolute transfer of Christ's righteousness is essential to his system.

But he does correctly produce Scriptures that support the idea that we are incorporated into Christ's faithfulness and obedience.

He mentions Romans 5:18-19, for example:

Therefore then, as through the one transgression all came under condemnation, so also through the one righteous act all come to justification and life. For just as through the disobedience of one person many were designated sinners, so also through the obedience of one [person] many will be designated righteous.

To open up another can of worms, 5:19 here is so similar to Richard Hays understanding of Romans 3:22 that it was a major factor in my finally accepting his understanding of "the faith of Christ" in that verse:

"even God's righteousness [demonstrated] through the faithfulness of Jesus Messiah toward all who have faith."

Notice the parallel:

5:19--Jesus' obedience leads to many being pronounced righteous.
3:22--Jesus' faithfulness leads to believers being justified (=pronounced righteous).

A better verse, and of course one Piper would not agree supports his own general trajectory for obvious reasons, is Galatians 2:20 in Haysian translation:

"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me. And what I now live in flesh, I live in the faithfulness of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me."

3. Philippians 3:9
I will close this review with a brief consideration of Philippians 3:9. This verse is somewhat ambiguous on its own:

"...so that I might gain Christ and be found in him, not having my own righteousness based on the law but [a righteousness] through the faith of Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith."

Let me give it my interpretive understanding:

...not having my own righteousness based on keeping the Jewish law but a righteousness that has come through the faithfulness of Christ, a righteousness God has declared based on my faith.

As I interpret it--and I recognize that it is ambiguous and that Paul might simply be saying the same thing twice--there is first a reference to Christ's faith and then one to Paul's:

my righteousness through faith of Christ
my righteousness from God through my faith

Yes indeed, this righteousness I have is really Christ's righteousness, a righteousness that is reckoned to me because I am in Christ.

4. Conclusion
While I disagree with Piper on many of his specific interpretations here, I'm not sure I am that far from him on the question of Christ's righteousness counting as my own. I think the main difference is that he is very concerned to see this as a real and total transfer.

I'm not 100% sure I even know what a real transfer means. What I think it means for Piper is that God must have absolute, mathematical justice and cannot accept us without total mathematical righteousness. So Christ must take every drop of punishment we should have and we must have every drop of his perfect righteousness.

This is where the difference is. Piper is driven by theological concerns of which Paul knows nothing.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Review 12 of Piper's Future of Justification, Chapter 10

Sorry I've been off for a few days.

Today we look at chapter 10 of John Piper's book, The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright:

"The Implications for Justification of the Single Self-Righteous Root of 'Ethnic Badges' and 'Self-Help Moralism'"

This is one of Piper's longer chapters. In it Piper takes on several elements of the so called new perspective on Paul.

I continue to try to put my finger on why I don't really like the way Tom Wright goes about doing exegesis a lot of the time--even when I agree with him. I think I'm getting close. My sense is that he overloads passages with meaning because of his "system."

There's a great rule for reading texts in context--don't see more meaning in a text than is necessary for it to make sense. By contrast, Wright is in many respects as much a theologian when he interprets as a straight exegete (we are of course all theologians in our hermeneutic and application). In his own way Piper has pointed this fact out (he does it far more than even Wright of course). Wright reads the text from within a system he created back in his doctoral days. He has only elaborated it in dialog with specific passages and history ever since.

In that sense I view Jimmy Dunn as a better exegetical model of the original meaning than Wright is, which is why I wanted to study under him. Dunn sticks to the text wherever it leads--at least as much as any of us can--and has little time for the special pleading that is increasingly the name of the game in the biblical studies guild.

Certainly the ideological critics have conquered the text in the name of postmodernism and made it say whatever their ideology wanted it too. Yet postmodernism has also afforded conservatives an opportunity to slough off legitimate questions raised by modernist biblical scholarship. Others have turned to Gadamer as a way of interpreting within Christian tradition without regard for the original intent--a clever dodge but still a dodge.

My scheme has been to 1) let the text say what it said, no matter how painful, and 2) work out any problems when we move to theology. At times I let faith in my tradition trump reason's evidence, but I do this with full disclosure to myself. I realize this process has a tinge of the catholic to it, but I believe this is the way forward, a la Mark Noll and others. I think Christianity is ready for a synthesis that finally lets the Reformation reach equilibrium with the church catholic.

1. "mercy, not sacrifice"
This is not a major part of the chapter, but I wanted to put the funniest thing in this chapter first so it doesn't get buried in minutia.

I couldn't believe that Piper quoted this verse in the way he does, when Jesus tells the Pharisees of Matthew 23 to go learn what the Scripture means when it says, "I desire mercy and not sacrifice." For Piper, this is Jesus' "basic statement about the hermeneutic that guided the Pharisees' pursuit of Torah" (157). More on Piper's skewed, even if traditional understanding of the Pharisees below...

What was so funny was the way he turned this into an implied critique of the fact that the Pharisees didn't see their total depravity and, thus, their need for God's unconditional election. He doesn't put it this way, of course, but it stands behind what he does say: "They say that they are depending on God's grace. But Jesus said they are not" (157).

HA! The context is an indictment of Pharisees who pay attention to small details of the law and then miss the weightier ones--"justice, mercy, and faithfulness" (Matt. 23:23). In other words, Jesus critiques them because they don't show the right works!!! This passage has nothing to do at all with their absolute reliance on God's mercy. It's about the need for them to show mercy and thus to act righteously.

Frankly, Matthew and James are two NT texts Piper's theology should stay away from for their own health.

As an aside, I had a graduate student once who strongly objected to my translation of Matthew 6:1 as "do righteousness." His reasoning was that it is impossible for us truly to "do righteousness." I was at somewhat of a loss as to what to say to him. Sorry, that's what the Greek words say.

2. the phrase "works of law"

The New Perspective
As we have seen, Wright views the phrase "works of law" as a reference to "an ethnic badge worn to show that a person is in the covenant rather than deeds done to show that they deserve God's favor" (Piper, 145-46). In other words, Paul is addressing ethnic boasting rather than "self-help moralism."

By "self-help moralism," Wright means the attempt to earn God's favor by way of a person's good deeds and accomplishment of the law. In other words, following Sanders, Wright does not believe that Judaism in general at the time was "legalistic" but that Jews kept the law in gratitude to God for his grace.

Once again, I find Wright's way of describing his position less than communicative. As he does not see faith or justification as things that make a person right with God, he insists that "works of law" were badges of covenant membership for mainstream Judaism just as faith becomes for Christians. They show that a person is in but do not bring a person in.

I find Dunn's presentation of this new perspective on works of law much more helpful. Like Wright, he thinks that by "works of law," Paul is primarily thinking of boundary issues like circumcision, food laws, and sabbath observance--those aspects of the law that most set off Jew from Gentile.

However, Dunn has made it clear in an introduction to a recent collection of essays, The New Perspective on Paul, that he would not limit the referent of the phrase "works of law" to these items. They are simply the primary content Paul has in mind.

Both Dunn and Wright adduce the train of thought in Romans 3:27-30 in favor of the idea that Paul is attacking a kind of "ethnocentrism" on the part of the Jews, who see the fact that Gentiles do not perform "works of law" as an indication of the superior standing of the Jews in God's eyes.

"Where therefore is boasting?

"It has been excluded?

"By what law? The law of works?

"No, but through the law of faith. For we reckon that a person is justified by faith irrespective of works of law. Or is God [the God] of the Jews only? Is he not also [God] of the Gentiles?

"Yes, he is also [God] of the Gentiles, since God [is] one who will justify the circumcision on the basis of faith and the uncircumcision through faith."

Piper didn't finish out the train of thought. He omits the final verse of the passage: Therefore, do we nullify law through faith? Certainly not! But we establish law.

Dunn and Wright's understand Paul's train of thought like this:

a. A person is justified by faith apart from works of law.

b. Otherwise, no Gentile could ever be justified.

c. And that can't be so because God is the God of the Gentiles as well as the Jews.

d. Thus, "works of law" must be acts of law-keeping that distinguish Jew from Gentile and

e. Thus, the Jews saw works of law as indications of God's sole approval of them and rejection of the Gentiles. The inappropriate boasting here is thus boasting in Jewishness as a path to justification and the de facto exclusion of the Gentiles thereby.

This argument makes a good deal of sense, although I get uncomfortable when such an anachronistic term like "ethnocentrism" gets introduced into the equation.

Piper
Piper argues in reverse. The way in which God is one God is the fact that He does not show partiality (as in Romans 2). "God is not a tribal deity" (147). This shows why, moving back to vs. 28, justification is by faith and not by works. "The focus in the argument is not mainly on 'works of law' but on faith as the universally accessible and universally humbling way of justification" (147).

This is a dubious way to go about exegesis, especially if you don't play it back forward after you have rewound from the end. A train of thought runs forward, not backward.

Schenck
I conclude with Dunn's somewhat nuanced understanding of this phrase. Certainly from the standpoint of the words themselves, the phrase "works of law" would seem to refer to performance of the law. And what law is Paul most likely to have in mind? Why the Jewish law, of course. Wright is correct to see Jewish particularism as an element in the train of thought--Gentiles obviously don't tend to keep the law in question.

I find the background of 4QMMT potentially helpful too. If in fact this document reflects intra-Jewish arguments over the particulars of matters like purity and such, then the phrase might immediately bring to mind these sorts of issues--issues that were very particular to Judaism and the most ethnically unique aspects of the Jewish law. This is true even if the phrase itself potentially had broader connotations.

Indeed, if the word "Essene" is actually related to the verb אשה, "to do," it is possible that the idea of "doing" the law would have immediately brought this whole set of issues to mind--the kinds of issues that Essenes worried about.

The upshot of all this is that Paul targeted not so much "faith versus works" in the abstract, (although this issue is raised by Paul's argument, much as individual predestination is tangential but raised by Paul's corporate argument in Romans 9-11). What Paul specifically had in mind was faith versus works of a law that was the particular possession of Israel.

This of course has the effect of limiting salvation to the Jews, and it does steer the question of boasting toward Jewish boasting in the (Jewish) law as an indication that they are superior.

3. Was Judaism legalistic?
A significant portion of the chapter also takes on the new perspective's presentation of Judaism as a religion of grace rather than legalism. I have already mentioned a particularly ironic element in Piper's argument above in #1.

Now I would agree that Sanders' description of Palestinian Judaism is a bit simplistic, "canned," if you would. And Wright's sense of law keeping as gratitude to God for His grace is even more myopic. There were all sorts of Jews with all sorts of perspectives, even on the law. I will begrudgingly conceed that a phrase from the title of Carson's work, "variegated nomism," is more appropriate than Sanders' term, "covenantal nomism." The Devil is in the details, and grand, all encompassing typologies--this group is this way, that group is that way--are almost always wrong from the start. In real life people are complex and don't usually reduce to simplistic categories. This is, again, why I prefer Dunn to Wright.

But the "new perspective" is far more correct than the "old perspective" that saw Judaism as a religion of works righteousness and Paul as opposing this head on. Piper is right that works were in the mix of God's favor for Judaism. But they were in the mix of God's favor for Paul too. The pure abstraction of absolute faith (created by God and thus not a work) versus any work at all is not Paul. Further, the intertestamental texts often do emphasize God's grace. John Piper could have written half the Thanksgiving Hymns from Qumran.

As we mentioned under #1, Piper draws on Jesus' words against the Pharisees in Matthew 23 to base his understanding of Judaism. Here is a good statement of Piper's general perspective: "No doubt there were such grace-dependent, gratitude-driven Jewish people, but it is doubtful that Paul and the Pharisees whom Jesus knew and Paul's opponents in Galatia were among them."

In a way, I agree with Piper. I agree that the Jews didn't have his standard of "grace-dependence." Yet I disagree in that many Jews were sufficiently grace dependent to be acceptable to God. And the same applies to Paul--he didn't have Piper's standard of "grace-dependence," yet he was sufficiently grace-dependent to be acceptable to God.

Would Piper agree, however, that there were Pharisees who were sufficiently grace-dependent to be acceptable to God? In a footnote, Piper acknowledges that we are reading Matthew's presentation of the Pharisees and that there might, in theory, be a Matthean perspective in play. He dismisses such speculation: "If I have to choose which testimony to believe about the nature of the Pharisees, I choose to believe the testimony of the early Christians, not the reconstruction of twenty-first century scholars whose biases are no less dangerous than those of early Christians" (155 n.18).

He is perhaps alluding to Sanders' claim that Pharisees were a Judean phenomenon and that it is not likely that Jesus ever substantially came into contact with them.

I protest, however, to Piper's reference to "the testimony of the early Christians." Here he pretty much means the testimony of Matthew. When we listen to the perspectives of each of the gospel writers, Matthew is clearly the harshest toward the Pharisees. Piper could never make his claims from Luke-Acts or John. Jesus has Pharisee supporters in John (e.g., Nicodemus). And Acts seems to consider the Pharisees who have believed to be "in" (Acts 15:5). Indeed, Acts 21:20 seems to indicate that the vast majority of believers in Jerusalem leaned in this direction. Further, Paul identifies himself as a Pharisee in the present tense before the Sanhedrin in Acts 23:6.

We cannot 1) equate Pharisees with all Jews or 2) deny that Matthew's presentation tends toward one extreme and is not the whole picture even of "the testimony of the early Christians."

With regard to Paul, I might note again that Piper turns to Ephesians and 1 Timothy with respect to Paul's view toward his pre-Christian self. We can affirm by faith that Paul wrote these writings. But that does not allow us to deny the significant differences between them and Paul's earlier writings. You cannot start a theology of Paul from 1 Timothy or you will end up skewing all his earlier stuff.

Similarly, I was flabergasted to see that John McRay used Ephesians as the template for his presentation of the life and teachings of Paul. Ephesians is close to Paul's earlier writings, but it is different enough that it should be treated as a variation rather than the norm.

Take the following two statements:

"Therefore, since we have been justified on the basis of faith, we have peace with God ... Therefore, how much more since we have been justified by his blood, we will be saved through him from wrath" (Rom. 5:1, 9), and "a person is justified on the basis of faith irrespective of works of law (3:28).

"For by grace you have been saved through faith... not on the basis of works, so that no one can boast" (Eph. 2:8).

Note 1) that Ephesians no longer uses the language of justification. Meanwhile, 2) while salvation is future tense in Romans, it is now past tense in Ephesians. Further 3) works of law no longer is enmeshed in a discussion of Jews and Gentiles but has become the more abstract discussion that we know so well from Augustine to the present.

Again, the Devil is in the details. This is why Dunn is a better Bible interpreter than Piper. Piper runs rough shod over important distinctions and poo-poo's them in the name of some alleged "higher view of Scripture" that in practice is far more apt to rape the biblical text.

4. A futile distinction?
Finally, Piper spends a good deal of time arguing that there is ultimately no distinction between Wright's "racial boast" and "successful moralism." Both, according to Piper, amount to self-righteousness: "ethnocentrism and legalism have the same root" (157).

If one believes, as Piper does, that grace precludes merit to any human action at all, then he is correct. However, the Bible does not know such an absolute distinction.

Grace is a concept of ancient patronage. It was an informal relationship in which a "have" helped out a "have not" disproportionate to anything the recipient might give in return. But it was not absolute. Certainly a "client" might seek out a patron. Certainly such "gifts" often came with expectations in return and, in that sense, were not completely unconditional.

Now we must let the NT itself tell us the degree to which it might modify this socio-cultural background. Just because it happened this way in the Meditteranean world doesn't mean that it operates that way in the NT.

But the texts of the NT fit remarkably well against this background, which was current to the NT. Certainly God calls and elects in one set of texts. But then "whosoever" solicits God's favor in faith. And there are definitely expectations that God has in return for His grace. No one can give enough to merit His grace, but He expects us to give.

Piper's distinctions are thus post-NT. Faith is the sine qua non of justification. No amount of works add up to justification. And certainly, works of the Jewish law do not add up to justification. God will justify the Gentiles through their faith but He will justify the Jews also because of their faith, not because they have kept the Jewish law.

But in the final analysis, at the final judgment, appropriate "works" are also a sine qua non for final justification. We can do our "after the fact" rankling in theology class about whether the works are a result of justification rather than a pre-requisite for it. But these are our arguments, not Paul's.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Monday Thoughts: Piper's Chapter 9, Future of Justification 11

Today we review chapter 9 of John Piper's new book, The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright. This chapter is titled, "Paul's Structural Continuity with Second Temple Judaism."

In this chapter, Piper presents--but largely does not evaluate--Wright's understanding of the phrase "works of law." To a large extent, Piper in this chapter is presenting some of the key distinctives of the so called "new perspective on Paul." In particular, he is evaluating an article Wright wrote comparing Paul with one of the Dead Sea scrolls: "Some of the Works of the Law" (4QMMT).

I have already mentioned this issue. Key here is the fact that Paul largely does not contrast faith with works in the abstract, as Luther and the Protestant Reformation did, indeed, as Augustine did. The phrase that Paul primarily uses is "works of law."

Thus Romans 3:28--"So we reckon that a person is justified by faith and not by works of law."

The law in question is certainly the Jewish law. For me, a crucial issue is whether Paul here primarily pictures the "core law" that I have argued he has in mind in Romans 2 or the fuller Jewish law with special reference to the particulars that distinguished Jew from Gentile (circumcision, sabbath observance, food laws). Certainly in Romans 2 he must have something like a core law in mind, since Gentiles do the things in the law--something they by definition cannot do if Paul has things like circumcision in mind.

Wright's Argument
Wright's argument is, first of all, an argument about Judaism. Following the "new perspective," Wright does not believe that Judaism at the time of Paul was a religion of legalism where you tried to earn God's favor. Rather,

1. God graciously brought Israel into covenant with Himself.

2. Israel's life of obedience was in response for this grace.

3. Final justification would come on the basis of an entire life lived.

With this last point we should emphasize that Wright and Piper are talking about the Second Temple Period (516BC-AD70). The OT in context has little sense that history is headed toward some sort of culmination.

So Wright has 6 points in relation to 4QMMT, the key text of which reads,

"We have written to you some of the works of the law... You will rejoice at the end time when you find the essence of our words to be true. And it will be reckoned to you as righteousness."

Here are Wright's points"
1. "Works of the law" here are in a covenantal and eschatological context.

2. The works in question function as "boundary markers" of God's people now anticipating the end time.

3. Paul replaced "works of law" in this scheme with "faith."

4. Both Paul and this document are talking about community definition.

5. Paul's ethics though functions differently than "works" do here.

6. This document is not Pharisee, so we can't assume Paul's Galatian opponents had this understanding of the structure of justification.

So Wright believes that Paul's understanding of justification has a similar structure to that of this Jewish background, only with faith taking the place of works of law.

So for the Teacher of Righteousness, the alleged author of MMT, 1) God's promise led to the 2) establishment of the community of Israel on its way to 3) final vindication, but in the meantime 4) in a state of exile marked by works in the present.

For Paul, according to Wright, 1) God's promise led to the 2) establishment of the community in Christ as fulfilled Israel on its way to 3) final vindication, but in the meantime 4) in a state of exile marked by faith in the present.

I'll confess before we get to the next chapter that I think Wright has seriously overread the parallel and is overloading Paul's words with mega-extraneous meaning. In the next installment, we'll look at Piper's critique and I'll add mine to both of them...

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Romans Sundays: Romans 1:8-15

My Romans commentaries sit in a box in our new temporary, yet slightly unfinished offices. The Noggle Christian Ministries building at IWU is getting a long promised renovation next semester and over the summer, so the Religion division at IWU will be camping in the old College Wesleyan Church. Appropriately, my office is in what used to be the nursery.

So, since there is also a nice layer of snow on the ground outside my house, I'm moving on today to Romans 1:8-15:

First, I give thanks to my God through Jesus Messiah for you all, because your faithfulness is announced in the whole world. For God is my witness, whom I worship with my spirit because of the gospel of his Son, as I am constantly making mention of you. Always in my prayers I am asking if somehow at last now I might find safe passage in the will of God to come to you.

For I long to see you so that I might share some spiritual gift with you so that you might be strengthened. And [such strengthening] brings a mutual encouragement [to me] along with you through the mutual faith of one another.

Now I do not want you to be unaware, brothers [and sisters], that I often planned to come to you, but I was prevented [doing so] until now. [I wanted to come] so that I might bear fruit also among you as [I have] among the other Gentiles. I am obligated both to Greeks and barbarians, both to the wise and the ignorant.

So my purpose is also to preach the gospel to you also in Rome.

Since we are on Christmas break (after the last of my grades are in :-)--and since this is not a particularly controversial section of Romans--I will try to cover any interesting comments in the commentaries next Sunday. We'll see.

One interesting point is the fact that faith once again seems to involve obedience. Also, Paul has no qualms about his potential to spiritually benefit the Romans. No tinge of Piper's "dirty rotten scoundrel but for the grace of God" motif here.

For now let me simply note that Paul in this "thanksgiving section" once again thinks of the Roman church primarily in Gentile terms. If the Jews divided the world up into "Jew and Greek," it is interesting that Paul here divides the Gentiles up into "Greek and barbarian."

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Hebrews Website In Progress

I've begun to create the website for the course. The links don't go anywhere yet, but in 15 minutes I'm off for some training in the videocasting software.

If you want to see the "first draft" of the outer shell of the course, go to:

http://www.kenschenck.com/hebrews.html.

It's not too late for improvements, so any suggestions for the front face of the course, send them my way. By the way, the last day for registration is December 21 right now, so get off the fence and email me or the graduate ministries office at IWU to register.

Review 10: Piper's Future of Justification Chapter 8

Today we review Chapter 9 of John Piper's new book: The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright. This chapter is titled: "Does Wright Say with Different Words What the Reformed Tradition Means?"

I felt in this chapter like I was listening in on someone else's conversation. None of it is particularly new territory, but Piper is addressing an issue of great concern in his circles. To his credit, he is open to the possibility that Wright is saying the same thing that he believes, only with different words. In the end, however, he concludes that Wright is saying something different in at least one key respect.

Imputation
I thought the following quote from Piper gave the upshot of the distinction between the two:

"... when Wright describes our works in relation to the final judgment as 'the things which show ... that one is in Christ,' he does not mean what most Reformed exegetes have meant when they speak like that.

They mean that the necessary works--the imperfect but real life of love--at the last day show that there has been authentic faith and union with Christ whose atoning death and imputed obedience are the sole ground of acceptance and vindication, apart from any grounding in our Spirit-enabled, imperfect deeds.

Wright, we have seen, does not believe Paul taught such an imputation of Christ's obedience" (127).

Or, to put it even more specifically,

"In historic Reformed exegesis,

(1) a person is in union with Christ by faith alone.

In this union, (2) the believer is identified with Christ in his

(a) wrath-absorbing death,
(b) his perfect obedience to the Father, and
(c) his vindication-securing resurrection.

All of these are reckoned--that is, imputed--to the believer in Christ.

On this basis, (3) the "dead," "righteous," "raised" believer is accepted and assured of final vindication and eternal fellowship with God" (124-125).

The difference between Reformed theology and Wright, Piper claims, is that Wright has no 2b in his system. Wright does not see Paul claiming that Christ's righteousness is imputed to the believer who is in Christ in the way Piper does.

Implications
Piper sees three major implications of Wright's missing 2b:

1. The believer's status still stands before God's court without real perfect imputed obedience.
How then can the holy God vindicate them?

2. That leaves only our own Spirit-enabled imperfect obedience as Christians to stand before the holy God, even though our past sins are taken care of.

3. Uncertain about how works play into our future justification creates doubts abou their role in our present justification.

Here Piper quotes Wright: "What is 'justification by faith' all about? Paul's answer is that it is the anticipation, in the present time, of the verdict which will be issued on the last day" (129).

Piper's argument is that

a). if present justification is by faith (as Wright seems to affirm) and
b). present justification is an anticipation of future justification,
c). how can Wright say that future justification is by works?

Evaluation
I would agree that Wright's words are often difficult to pin down (he reminds me of Barth, although I think Barth's ambiguity is more coherent than Wright's). Let me here fully confess that someone could have a hey day with my comments too if they started pulling contradictory sounding sentences from the many words I've put on this blog.

I think, however, that some of the ambiguity here is not Wright's fault and some of Piper's clarity is not to the Reformed tradition's merit. Rather, Paul himself leaves us with many statements that sound to be in tension with each other. Just as an example:

"We reckon that a person is justified by faith apart from works of law." (Rom. 3:28)

"It is necessary for all of us to appear before the judgment seat of the Messiah so that each might be paid back for the things that they did with their body, whether good or bad" (2 Cor. 5:10).

In short, the charge of alleged discrepency between present and future justification must lay first at Paul's door before one puts it on Wright, who in his ambiguity is a fair reflection of Paul's own ambiguity.

Here I have some thoughts:
1. Perhaps God has inspired the Reformed (or Wesleyan) tradition to hear the right meanings in and connections between Paul's words on this topic. But it is important to recognize that the text of Paul himself on this topic has what Paul Ricoeur called a "surplus of meaning." There is more than one way to account for what, at least at first glance, are comments that appear to be in tension.

These are "gaps" in the text (cf. Wolfgang Iser) which can be filled in coherently, as the Reformed and Wesleyan traditions have. But for me it is also important to recognize that we are the ones filling in these gaps. Piper is deluding himself if he thinks his interpretation of imputed righteousness comes from Paul himself. It comes from Christian tradition filling in gaps in Paul's writings.

This is not a bad thing--it is in fact a necessary thing.

2. My sense in Paul is that he speaks broadly and generally. The Protestant Reformation, along with Augustine, have polarized Paul's language by making it more either-or in ways he didn't.

a. predestination versus free will (Augustine, Calvin, and Wesley have filled in the philosophical gaps that sat loosely for Paul)

b. human depravity versus goodness (The Pelagian controversy polarized this issue in ways it wasn't fully polarized for Paul)

c. faith versus works
Paul simply never uses the phrase "justification by faith alone." Paul never says that we are purely justified by faith, understood not to involve works at all. Wright is correct over Piper that for Paul faith involves human action (versus Piper on 130-131). Paul does not worry about whether this faith is a "work" itself done by human effort--these are much later debates.

We are justified by faith now--by trusting in what God has done by raising Jesus from the dead. We will be justified by faithfulness then--with the atonement of Christ in place for past sins, how we went on to live in the Spirit. Paul doesn't work out the details.

Once again, we can discern that the primary fly in Piper's ointment is his undertanding of penal substitution in relation to God's holiness. Christ has to take the last drop of our punishment and, conversely, we have to have the last drop of Christ's righteousness.

Meanwhile, Paul doesn't care. Jesus dying for our sins is not a mathematical equation to satisfy a wrath-number crunching God. Nor is God a righteous-number crunching God. He's God. He is sovereign enough to forgive for free if He had wanted to. The image of penal substitution is just one of several true pictures of atonement.

But to make it a fully literal understanding of God--just as to make predestination fully literal or depravity--is to skew Paul with other bad theological consequences.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Friday Review: Piper's Future of Justification 9

Today I review chapter 7 of John Piper's new book: The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright. Chapter 7 is titled: "The Place of Our Works in Justification."

I have found the chapters in Piper's book thus far to be of varying value. A couple I have felt were without merit. On the other hand, a couple have presented good scholarly cases for a dissenting view from Wright. This is one of those chapters. Although I come down on the side of Wright, Piper has made a good case for his interpretation of Romans 2. He loads his gun with the likes of Moo and Schreiner.

I would divide this chapter into two parts. The first deals with the interpretation of Romans 2. The second shows the consistent Reformed expectation that works must follow as a result of justification (though certainly not as a ground or basis for it).

1. Every attempt to create a biblical theology must come to grips with certain passages that, either superficially or substantially, seem to conflict with the final conclusion for which one is arguing. For the Protestant view of justification by faith, Romans 2:5-10 are such verses:

"According to your (sg) hardness and unrepentant heart you are storing up for yourself (sg) wrath on the Day of Wrath and the revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will repay to each person according to his works--

a) on the one hand, to those who seek glory and honor and immortality with the endurance of a good work, eternal life;

b) on the other hand, to those who both disobey the truth out of selfishness and obey unrighteousness, wrath and rage;

b') tribulation and hardship on every living human who does the evil, both Jew first and Greek,

a') and glory and honor and peace to everyone who does the good, both Jew first and Greek.

Piper, following the traditional interpretation, and bolstered by commentators like Douglas Moo and Thomas Schreiner, argues that before Paul is done, he will argue that no one, Jew or Greek, actually fall into the "a" category--at least not at the point where Paul's argument is in Romans 2.

In the traditional approach to Romans 2, Paul is setting up his argument. There is no impartiality with God. Either Jew or Gentile could in theory be right with God on the basis of their deeds. We will all be judged on the Day according to our works. But when we get to chapter 3, we realize that no one actually can. In that sense, Romans 2 is about the plight of humanity, a humanity that will have to stand before God and give an account--but none of us have a good account to give!

The real crux of the disagreement between Wright and others like Moo and Schreiner comes when we get to Romans 2:13-16:

"For the hearers of the law are not righteous before God, but the doers of the law will be justified. For whenever Gentiles--those who by nature do not have the law--do the things of the law, these are the law for themselves, although they do not have it, who demonstrate the work of the law written on their hearts, with their conscience at the same time witnessing and either accusing or even excusing between each of their thoughts on the Day when God will judge the hidden things of mortals..."

Wright, among others, takes the Gentiles in question here to be Christians. In other words, they demonstrate the law written on their hearts in the manner of Jeremiah 31--"I will write my laws upon their hearts."

Piper disagrees and makes a cogent argument that these are unbelievers who like Romans 1:20 know the invisible truth of God. Piper notes that "or even excusing" seems to reflect a less than optimistic attitude about their chances at the judgment.

This is a good argument and one that I once accepted. It was the similarity of Romans 2:15 to Jeremiah 31:33 that changed my mind. I note two things about this passage:

a) Any law that Gentiles might keep must, de facto, be some core law rather than the full Jewish law. I say this because a Gentile by definition is uncircumcised and, thus, by definition cannot keep the law. The examples Paul gives are stealing, committing adultery, and idol worship, things Paul certainly expected his Gentile converts not to do.

b) Given that 2:5 refers to Judgment Day, Paul does consider works as a necessary element in the (final) justification equation. If they're not there, judgment ensues. In 2:15, Paul is speaking about Gentiles who will have those works like not stealing and not committing adultery. They will have those works because the law will be written on their hearts. And they will have those works because of the Holy Spirit--an element in the equation that Paul does not mention here but that is clear given things Paul says elsewhere and given the parallel tradition we find in Hebrews.

2. The second concern Piper has in this chapter is to diss something Wright said at a 2003 conference in Edinburgh, namely, about the silence of Protestants regarding the importance of works in final justification.

He then proceeds to quote the Lutheran Augsburg Confession (1530), the First Helvetic Confession in Switzerland (1536), the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, what Piper calls an "expression of Anglican Reformed faith" (1571), then finally the Westminster Confession (1647). All of these indicate that works are a necessary consequence of justification by faith.

It is of course when one looks at such things that one is reminded that Wesley was just a "hair's breadth from Calvinism." That hair on this subject largely had to do with his optimism with regard to just how many works might follow justification by faith.

Let me step outside the bounds of both Wesley and Calvin (and Luther) to speak for Paul, however, who really didn't get so bent out of shape over these nuances.

Piper is right that the phrase Paul uses in 2:6 is different from when he is contrasting justification by works from justification by faith. 2:6 uses the phrase "according to works" while elsewhere, such as in 3:28, it is "on the basis of works." But wait, let me finish the phrase, "on the basis of works of law." Oh, and let me finish the other phrase too, "faith of Jesus Christ."

Piper will get to these debates later in the book I know, but the phrase "works of law" seems to be more than a reference to mere human effort, the Protestant way of taking the phrase. I'll wait to talk more about these things until Piper gets to them.

Perhaps Piper is right in the sense that it is a slightly different phrase. Perhaps Paul doesn't want his audience to think he is talking about the same thing in Romans 2 that he is in Romans 3. In the end, though, Paul doesn't seem to have a problem with speaking of justification by works in a final sense, given all the caveats of Romans 3 about no one ultimately deserving God's favor.

But given God's favor, indeed given God's empowerment, works are expected at the Judgment. And Paul simply doesn't have a problem in that context of speaking of it not just as co-instrumental. Frankly, in the context of final judgment, works seem to take the prominent role!

This lends support to the view of the new perspective that "works of law" in Romans primarily refers to the more ethnically unique parts of the Jewish law. On the other hand, what Christians have long called the "moral law" (an anachronistic term to be sure) appears to be the criterion by which mortals will be judged on the Day.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Course Requirements for Hebrews Open Source Course

Here are the course requirements for the grad class on Hebrews:

1. Watching Video-Lectures
Incorporated into each week of the course is a video-lecture that you will watch. You will be expected to engage with Schenck’s commentary lecture when you compare and evaluate the commentaries on your (public) team commentary blog.

2. (Public) Team Commentary Blogging (400 points)
In addition to Schenck’s video lecture, you will compare three other commentators on Hebrews on the passage of the week, often addressing a specific question. You will make a 500 word post on your team blog and make responses to posts by other members of the class.

3. (Private) Team Application Blogging (200 points)
Crucial to the class is the application of Hebrews’ material both in our theology and practice. Each week you will make a 300 word post on a private team blog on how the passage of the week might relate to our contemporary theology or practice, ending with some thoughts on how you might preach or teach from the passage in question. You will then make responses to posts from other members of the class.

4. Miscellaneous Assignments (200 points)
The course includes three miscellaneous assignments: 1) a survey of Hebrews, following a method presented in the first week (50 points), 2-3) two 5-10 page book review/evaluations, one of Barnabas Lindars’ book, The Theology of the Letter to the Hebrews, and the other of Ken Schenck’s book, Understanding the Book of Hebrews (75 points each)

5. A Final Exam (200 points)
At the end of the course, you will take an open book, timed exam online. It will mainly test a) your knowledge of the content of Hebrews and b) your knowledge of the assigned reading, video lectures, and your team discussions.

Course Grade
400 points – Commentary/Lecture Blog
200 points – Application Blog
200 points – Miscellaneous Assignments
200 points – Final Exam

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

List of Hebrews Video Casts Next Semester

Lord willing, here is the list of opensource Hebrews videocasts you should be able to see from here and my archive site next semester:

January 8, 2008--The Situation of Hebrews

January 15--The Sermon in a Nutshell: Hebrews 1:1-4

January 22--Announcing God's Solution: Hebrews 1:5-2:18

January 29--Keep Going to the End: Hebrews 3:1-4:13

February 5--Announcing a New Priest: Hebrews 4:14-5:10

February 12--Don't Fall Away: Hebrews 5:11-6:20

February 19--A Change of Law: Hebrews 7:1-28

February 26--A Change of Covenant: Hebrews 8:1-13

March 11--A Change of Sanctuary: Hebrews 9:1-28

March 18--An Effective Sacrifice: Hebrews 10:1-18

March 25--Persist in Faith: Hebrews 10:19-11:40

April 1--Endure God's Discipline: Hebrews 12:1-29

April 8--Sending the Sermon: Hebrews 13:1-25

I'm excited!

Review 8: Piper's Future of Justification Chapter 6

Today we review chapter 6 of John Piper's book The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright: Justification and the Gospel: Does Justification Determine Our Standing with God

In this chapter Piper swings back around to the question of whether justification actually does anything or whether it is simply a declaration. As such, most of the chapter is repetitive of quotes from Wright to which Piper has already taken exception. I've already suggested that when justification is taken as a legal pronouncement, it is both declarative and enacting. So we could simply stop there and call it a chapter.

Well, there are a few new angles Piper explores with us, and since you're paying for this, I should probably write a little more :-)

1. One aspect of justification in Wright that Piper explores a little more in this chapter is his sense that it functions to bring "assurance," although it doesn't do anything.

2. A second aspect is Wright's sense that the "call" of God is what "converts" us. It is, in Piper's words, an "effectual" call rather than a general summons. When we are called, we are in the family of God. For Wright, justification then adds nothing more. It merely declares what the call has done by the power of the Holy Spirit.

This fits with something that Wright says elsewhere that Piper does not discuss in this chapter, namely, Wright's idea that faith is a "badge of covenant membership." Faith does not cause justification for Wright. Rather, faith, like justification, indicates that one has already become a member of the people of God.

I came across this idea in Wright several years ago while Tom Seat (now an MDiv student at Princeton) was doing his honors thesis on Wright's view of justification. At the time, it seemed very Calvinist in flavor to me, although I tried to suspend that conclusion in case I was missing something. Scholars of Wright's calibur at least try to listen to Paul without letting Reformation baggage get in the way, as Piper has so frequently pointed out.

I might add as an aside something I wish I had known when I lived in England, namely, that the Anglican Church signed the Westminster Confession at the Synod of Dordt against the Arminians. In short, the Anglican Church has a Calvinist edge.

In the end, I will reject Wright's understanding both of faith and justification here. Simon Gathercole, as Piper quotes, has rightly pointed out the apparent sense of Romans 5:1--"Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God." In a footnote, Piper notes that Wright's commentary on Romans seems to take this verse in its normal sense, which puzzles Piper, as it does me. This is the problem with writing so much, Wright is an apt target for deconstruction.

I conclude as before, therefore, that Paul speaks of human faith as the trigger for justification in its legal sense of both declaring a person innocent and making it so in the "eyes of the law."

As a footnote to this, I do think Paul can understand the phrase "the faith of Jesus Christ" in relation to Christ's faith and faithfulness, but I see his faith language as a both/and rather than either/or. I might also add that this discussion can quickly be taken in overly individualistic terms. Our goal here, however, is not to lay out Paul's theology systematically but to evaluate the dialog between Piper and Wright on specific points.

Of interest to me in relation to this chapter is Paul's sense of the "call." Piper and Wright seem to substantially agree with each other that the call, for Paul, is an effective call. Paul certainly seems to use this language. In my opinion, however, there is a disconnect between Paul's language of predestination of this sort and the actual process of joining the people of God and how one is to conduct the mission.

In evangelism and conversion, Paul is an Arminian. In language of predestination, he is a Calvinist (although even here I don't think he speaks so much of individuals as of the called, plural). Functionally, predestination language is "after the fact" language. To connect the two sets of language as Augustine and Calvin did is thus to skew Paul one way or the other.

So as far as Piper's argument against Wright's understanding of justification in this chapter, I believe Piper is more correct than Wright here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

How the Hebrews Experiment Will Work...

If you have further curiosity about the experimental "open source" course on the book of Hebrews I'm teaching next semester here in online land (see the previous post below for details), here's the basic weekly template I'll use.

Workshop x

Assignment 1: Watch Schenck's videocast: Hebrews xx-xx

Assignment 2: Post a 500 word comparison of Schenck and the three commentaries on your public team blog in relation to topic x.

Note: You will choose three of the following commentaries to compare and contrast along with Schenck throughout the course:

Suggested Commentaries:
a. deSilva, David, Perseverance in Gratitude

b. Johnson, Luke Timothy, Hebrews

c. Koester, Craig, Hebrews

d. Lane, William, 2 vols., Hebrews 1-8 and Hebrews 9-13

e. Witherington III, Ben, Letters and Homilies for Jewish Christians

f. Attridge, Harold, The Epistle to the Hebrews

Assignment 3: Make at least 2 substantive responses to the posts on your public team blog and at least 2 substantive responses somewhere to the posts on the blogs of the other teams.

Assignment 4: Now go to your team's private "Application" blog and post a 300 word reflection on how the situation of Hebrews might inform our theology and/or practice today. You would end by suggesting a sermon or formation study you might use on the basis of the passage we were studying in Hebrews.

Assignment 5: Make at least 2 substantive responses to the posts on your private team blog and at least 2 substantive responses somewhere to the posts on the blogs of the other teams.

From time to time there will be miscellaneous assignments due as well, which will normally be uploaded to a private area of Google Docs for the team to read.

Interested?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Want to Read Hebrews with Me?

I'm teaching Hebrews next semester at IWU on the undergraduate level. Which led me to a thought--why not do it on the web at the same time?! In fact, why not offer the possibility of graduate credit as well!

Thus a plan has hatched in my mind and, having secured the appropriate permissions, is now going to be a reality.

The Concept:
Here's the deal. Want to get three hours of graduate course credit mainly by watching online videocasts and blogging with me in public (and a little in private)? Okay, okay, there is a little more to it than that, but not much more.

Are you...
1. Someone who's never really thought about taking graduate courses because you can't "up and move somewhere"... or who didn't want to commit to an online program somewhere?

2. A current IWU grad ministry student looking for a Bible elective?

3. A student at some other seminary who wants to hang out with Schenck for 13 weeks in public online and transfer the credit back to Asbury, Gordon Conwell, Bethel, Duke, or Princeton (heh, heh, heh)?

4. A second semester undergraduate senior at IWU?

Basically, if you have a bachelor's degree already from somewhere (with all the usual yada, yada, yada), you can do one course with me this Spring online on the book of Hebrews.

And if you don't care to get credit, you can listen in to most of it--for free!

How it will work:
1. Once a week I will post an hour long videocast lecture both here on my blog and on IWU's public iTunesU site. It will be my talking head in a box, embedded in a powerpoint presentation.

2. There will be a public "commentary" blog for the graduate students in the class. You will be expected to choose three of the major commentaries on Hebrews and post responses to questions both in relation to them and Schenck's videocast there.

3. There will be private team blogs for those in the graduate class where the primary goal will be to apply Hebrews to today in theology, practice, preaching and teaching.

4. There are some miscellaneous assignments, like a survey of Hebrews, a notebook on Lindars' Theology of Hebrews and Schenck's Understanding the Book of Hebrews, a mid-term and a final, probably taken online.

Anyone interested? Feel free to email me or IWU's grad min office.

More specifics on the way, especially after I finalize the syllabus. Of course I'm not expecting a run on the bank. I couldn't handle much more than 15 people.

Review 7: Piper's Future of Justification Chapter 5

Chapter 5: "Justification and the Gospel: When is the Lordship of Jesus Good News?

In this chapter Piper is reacting to Wright statements like the following:

"[T]he doctrine of justification by faith is not what Paul means by 'the gospel'. It is implied by the gospel... But 'the gospel' is not an account of how people get saved" (What Saint Paul Really Said, 132-33).

Piper, more than anything else, has one major problem with this statement: if Paul had Piper's theology, he doesn't think this statement would be true. Oops.

The bottom line, Piper insists, is that the gospel is "an absolutely terrifying message to a sinner who has spent all his [or presumably her] life ignoring or blaspheming the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ and is therefore guilty of treason and liable to execution" (86). So how can the fact of justification in the face of such guilt not be a part of the good news?

Once again, as with Reformed theology in general, we see that the driving force behind Piper's issue is logical and rational rather than biblical. There are three major problems with Piper's thinking here, in addition to the fact that admitting he's wrong requires him to admit he has been somewhat off in his preaching for the last 50 years.

1. The first problem is linguistic.
There's a reason why Piper tries to undermine the idea of reading the words of the NT in the way people used words in the first century world--because it exposes the fact that "1500 years" of Christian theology often did not read the Bible's words in the way Paul and other NT author's meant them. It exposes the pretenses of Reformers like Calvin to get back to the Bible alone as only less developed interpretations than the Roman Catholics--but still significantly developed by tradition.

a. But unfortunately for Piper, both the most likely Jewish and Greco-Roman backgrounds for the word euangelion don't come out in favor of his position. If we go Greco-Roman, Wright correctly notes that the word "gospel" was often used in a political context to announce things like the birth of a successor to the throne or a stunning victory in battle.

That doesn't of course mean Paul couldn't use the word in relation to justification by faith. But we would expect the unusualness of such a reference to stand out in his writings. But what we find instead is that the gospel is "the gospel ... concerning his Son, who was born of the seed of David ... and set apart as Son of God in power by the resurrection of the dead" (Rom. 1:2-3).

Sorry Piper. He tries to make an end run around Paul's own words by turning to a sermon in Acts. But even there justification is not what is said to be the gospel. It is the resurrection and enthronement of Jesus as cosmic king that is said to be the gospel, not justification by faith, which as Wright says is implied in the gospel, not what the word gospel itself refers to (Acts 13:32-37).

Piper also turns to 1 Cor. 15, but stops the quote in mid-stream. Like Marcion who chopped up Paul's writings to say what he liked, Piper effectively reduces 15:1-5 to "I want to remind you of the gospel ... that Christ died for our sins." Sounds extremely convincing because Piper has omitted the rest of the passage (although even here we should note that this statement says nothing about justification). What follows must also be the gospel--"that he was buried" (great news!). And of course we finally get to the heart of the gospel message, "he was raised on the third day."

Piper also argues that Paul includes justification in what he means by the gospel by noting that Romans 10:10 mentions justification after 10:9:

"one believes and is justified."

Piper brings this up because Wright connects to the content of the gospel to 10:9 (although we should note that Paul does not actually use the word gospel here):

"If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."

But Wright agrees that justification is implied in the gospel, so 10:10 says nothing more than Wright says. Piper is blurring cause with effect, as he has elsewhere accused Wright of doing.

b. Of course as Wright points out, the most likely background for the gospel language of both Paul and Jesus is in the middle part of Isaiah (just as we saw with Paul's imagery of the righteousness of God). Isaiah 52:7 says,

"How lovely on the mountains are the feet of them who bring good news [euangelion in the Greek translation] ... who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, 'Your God reigns.'"

We see this same connection between the gospel--the salvation of God--and the reign of God in Romans 1:16--"I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God to salvation."

The good news is that because God reigns, He is bringing salvation. Mark 1:15 indicates this very well when it says, "The time has been fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe in the gospel." The good news here is about the arrival of the kingdom of God, the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. This is how Jesus speaks of the good news here, not in reference to the fact that God is letting us repent. Piper's theology, once again, is out of focus and skewed in its excessive focus on human depravity.

In general, Wright is far more right than Piper on this point. The word gospel is never used anywhere in the NT in reference to justification by faith, which is entailed in the gospel but is never what any NT author has primarily in mind when they use the word.

I will say that I'm not sure why Wright is so emphatic on this point (I think I understand why Piper is). Clearly salvation in general is closely related to good news of the reign of God and Christ (more closely than the doctrine of justification). There seems to be a point where we are splitting hairs.

2. The second problem with Piper's argument has to do with the evidence of Paul's attitude toward his past.

I was not surprised to find Piper quoting 1 Timothy 1:15-16, where Paul calls himself the chief of sinners. As I've said before, however, 1 Timothy is quite different in many ways from Paul's earlier writings (view of law, view of singleness and widows, view of women in general, embarrassingly to Piper, Paul never mentions justification by faith). It is methologically problematic in the extreme to use 1 Timothy as the lens through which we read Paul's other writings, since it is in so many respects the "odd man out." And anyone who knows honor-shame cultures (or has been to a testimony meeting recently) knows that recounting one's past sinfulness can actually, in a very strange way, serve as a badge of honor.

The bottom line is that Paul does not talk in his writings as if he had been a despicable sinner before he converted. This is not the tone that slips out of his subconscious throughout his letters. It is hard for Piper and the old guard to kick against these pricks of the new perspective, but on this one the new perspective has it right.

It is a notorious, yet obvious blind spot on the part of pop-interpreters of Philippians to assume that Paul was "leaving behind" and "forgetting" his despicable past in Philippians 3. But that's not what Paul says at all. What he says is "whatever was to my gain, I now consider loss" (3:7). In other words, he speaks of his Pharisee past not in terms of failure and miserable depravity, but of things he might have actually put on a resume.

Krister Stendahl long ago noted how infrequently Paul uses words like repentance and forgiveness. On the contrary, he is constantly telling his churches to imitate his way of living. These are highly strange phenomena if, as Piper wants to be the case, Paul wallowed in a pool of self-deprecation for his past sinfulness before the king.

Undoubtedly some will (tiringly) mention Romans 7, perhaps the passage in Paul most persistently and blatantly read out of context. Given the surrounding context of 7:7-25, Paul simply cannot be talking about his current struggle with sin. Take 6:17:

"Thanks be to God! Although you used to be slaves to sin ... you have been set free from sin."

Does this sound similar to, say, the climax of 7:24-25? "Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God! Through Jesus Christ our Lord!"

Romans 7:7-25 is a dramatic portrayal of a person who wants to obey the law, but is unable to do so because he or she is a slave of sin (7:25b). But you simply can't read the argument in context and conclude Paul is talking about his current experience. Throughout Romans 6-8 he repeatedly speaks of slavery to sin in the past tense, except in this brief passage where he is unfolding what 7:5 looks like:

"When we were in the flesh, the passions of sins [aroused] through the law used to work in our bodies..."

But this is past tense for us now: "The law of the Spirit of life in Christ has set you free from the law of sin and death" (Rom. 8:2)

Once we recognize this fact, there is nothing in the context to indicate that Paul is reminiscing about the "bad old days" either. In Philippians 3:6 Paul says of his Pharisee days that "as far as the righteousness according to law is concerned, I was blameless." Indeed, that's why the Pharisees had so many rules--so that the law could be kept perfectly in concrete terms.

In short, Paul just doesn't care to wallow in the despicability of his past sin. He never does it. Piper simply wouldn't write Paul's letters the way Paul did.

3. The third has to do with the priorities of Paul's gospel.
Justification by faith has been considered the center of Paul's theology by many Protestants since Luther. Of course many voices in the twentieth century pointed out that the doctrine is mostly confined to Romans and Galatians, where Paul is in dialog with the impact of Jewish Christians who did not agree with the way Paul preached the gospel to the Gentiles.

What seems to be the case is that Paul did not spend a lot of time emphasizing justification by faith when he was with Gentiles who were largely unaffected by his debates with Jerusalem and Antioch. The idea is completely tangential in Paul's letters to churches like those at Corinth or Thessalonica. He does introduce the topic at Philippi in fear that the "dogs" will pull a Galatians there. Ironically, I suspect he did not emphasize it much to his Jewish brothers and sisters when the Gentile question was not under discussion.

I think Paul did preach the coming wrath of God to his Gentile audiences. Idolatry and sexual immorality were probably mentioned as some of the main pretexts for their coming judgment. I think it ridiculous, however, to think that Paul preached total depravity of their fallen human nature to them. Maybe Augustine the fourth century Gentile would have.

The solution Paul preached was baptism in the name of Jesus Christ, whom God raised from the dead and appointed cosmic king. You would bow to him before he came or you would bow to him forcibly when he came, your choice. Paul did not, however, seem to emphasize human sinfulness per se in his preaching.

And I think it ridiculous to think he presented some theory of tranfering Christ's righteousness to them. We barely hear Paul say (and in the few places he does it is serendipitous) that Paul believed Jesus to be without sin!

Not promising for a theology that sees Christ's sinlessness as the key datum in atonement and justification!

Chapter 6 in a couple days, d.v...

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Sunday Romans: 1:1-7 (Wk3: Dunn, Wright, Fitz, W3)

Today I glance at another set of commentaries. I'll do one more week after this one, since I have several more I haven't glanced at yet (like Stuhlmacher, Barth, Stott). With today's I hit what I consider some of the key original meaning commentaries. As such they may not contribute too much to the Arminian-Calvinist issue.

J. D. G. Dunn (Romans 1-8, Word Biblical)
Dunn has some interesting things to say about what it might mean to be called. The word in a weak form could mean to invite, such as to invite to dinner. A stronger meaning would be to summons, and certainly the call of God is much stronger than an invitation. Dunn goes further to suggest that "the called" in Paul's parlance are "those whose lives had been determined by God's summons" (8).

As to Paul being called as an apostle, Dunn says, "Within that [broader] calling, which is one of the features of all those belonging to Christ, Paul thinks of a calling to a specific task (1:1; 1 Cor. 1:1), though in both cases he takes care to ensure that the idea of a specific calling cannot be separated from the calling of all (1:6-7; 1 Cor. 1:2...)" (8-9).

Dunn has some very interesting thoughts on the phrase "called to be saints" also. He points out how striking it would have been to Jews to call uncircumcised Gentiles as "set apart as holy" in the way sacrificial items were set apart for God.

N. T. Wright (New Interpreter's Bible, Abingdon)
I found Wright's discussion of these verses excellent and relatively clear (which he isn't always). We will discuss some of his thoughts on what the gospel is tomorrow in our coverage of Piper.

Particularly interesting was his discussion of what "according to the flesh" might mean. Wright strongly disagrees that this might mean merely that Jesus was of the seed of David in terms of his humanity. Flesh, Wright argues, always has some negative connotation for Paul.


For our purposes, I am mainly interested in what he does with the language of calling in this section. For 1:2 he takes Paul's calling as a matter of his "conversion." " 'Call' in Paul's writings usually refers, not to the specific vocation of which a Christian may gradually become aware, but to the moment when the gospel message of Jesus first makes its saving impact on him or her" (415). "Here," Wright argues, "Paul's 'conversion' was also his 'vocation' to be the apostle to the nations." In other words, it refers not to some decree before creation but to something God did at a particular point of Paul's life.


In 1:7, Wright takes calling as "called to belong to Jesus Christ" (420). As before, Wright takes this calling in relation to the point in time when the audience was called: "the 'call' was God's powerful word, creating new life--creating, indeed, the response it sought, as a word of love is always capable of doing."


Joseph Fitzmyer (Romans, Anchor Bible)
Fitzmyer has some good thoughts on the name "Paul" in a Roman context, as well as other good thoughts on the "creed" of 1:2-3.

But for our purposes, his most significant thoughts are his understanding of "among whom you too were called to belong to Jesus Christ." Fitzmeyer takes this in terms of the fact that "their vocation is to belong to Christ along with Israel."

Witherington (Paul's Letter to the Romans) also notes that Paul "uses terms formerly used of Israel, namely 'beloved' and 'called,' even of his largely Gentile audience, because he believes that Jew and Gentile united in Christ and in his gospel are the eschatological people of God and stand in continuity with Abraham and OT Israel" (37).

I think Fitzmyer and Witherington are on to something here, namely, that when Paul says the Romans are "called as saints," the most striking thing is that he primarily has Gentiles in mind. These Gentiles are a part of God's holy people just as Jewish believers are. The point is not that they are called and others aren't, but that along with others God has summoned, they are too.

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