Saturday, February 28, 2009

Dobson resigns from Focus on the Family

The press announcement is here. For my occasional differences with Dobson on ideological issues, I consider him a godly man who has done everything he has because he believed it to be God's will. I hope he enjoys his retirement.

Great Time for Wesleyan Evangelical Tradition 1

I've blogged here several times before on what a good time it is in the flow of ideas for the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition. I've emailed several book outlines to my colleagues here at IWU of books we could write to that end (usually with the response, not another book outline!). We're on Spring Break as of today here at IWU. Have I accumulated enough thoughts to put these thoughts together?
A Great Time for the Wesleyan Evangelical Tradition

Chapter 1: Somethings in the Water

1.1 Changes Afoot
Segments of the evangelical church in America are majorly in defensive mode at the beginning of the twenty-first century. A number of developments in the biblical, theological, and philosophical world have brought some cherished Protestant traditions into question. Evangelical groups that once enjoyed pride of place within American, conservative Christendom have found themselves scrambling on the defensive.

However, not all Protestant evangelical traditions are equally threatened by some of the new ideological and social challenges in play. Indeed, unlike the fundamentalist-modernist controversy of the early twentieth century, it seems impossible--at least if you are being honest--to paint the new challengers to the status quo in terms of "those without faith" versus "those with faith." One could hardly accuse N. T. Wright, for example, of not having faith--at least not with any degree of sanity. Nor is James K. A. Smith a force of unorthodoxy with which to reckon. And surely no one who actually knows Shaine Claiborne or Brian McLaren would accuse them of being faithless.

These are some of the new faces of evangelical Christianity, broadly defined. We should make it clear from the very start that they are each quite distinct new forces. I do not mention them together because they represent the same things, but because they represent some of the distinct fires that a certain "old guard" within American evangelicalism is scrambling to put out. You may disagree with the ideas of these new faces in evangelical Christianity. But, if so, you probably will have to accuse them of being more messed up in their heads than their hearts.

This last comment gets at the very heart of those Protestant evangelical traditions that feel most challenged by these changes and those that might actually be in a good position to thrive in the days to come. Those evangelical traditions that have primarily oriented themselves rigidly around ideas--and often very specifically laid out ideas--are those most in crisis mode. In other words, it is those who have liked to think of themselves as the "thinkers" of the evangelical tradition, who have put most of their eggs in a particular ideological basket, that are most offended. Those who are best situated to thrive in this present age are the pietists, the revivalists, the charismatics, the missionally minded--those that the Reformed historians George Marsden and Mark Noll (questionably) put as the ground zero of early twentieth century "fundamentalism." [1]

This is our time to thrive, and in a new way. We have always thrived numerically. It was the revivalists that took the West by storm. It is the charismatics who are leading the way currently in the furthest reaches of the planet today. Meanwhile, Calvinist evangelicals have been known more for their intellectual prowess than their numeric growth. It is no coincidence that places like Wheaton and Calvin College are the "Ivy League" of evangelical colleges--and they are predominantly Calvinist in orientation.

However, in an ironic turn of events, we find at the beginning of the twenty-first century that the traditions that were not bothered to engage the ideological challenges of the early twentieth century are in a great position to lead the way in the thought of the twenty-first. I do not intend in this book to speak for charismatics or Anabaptists, although they will no doubt find supporting arguments for their traditions here that overlap with my own.

My intention here is rather to highlight a few ways in which some contemporary currents provide great opportunities for the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition to take a leading role within twenty-first century evangelicalism. I have four trends in mind in particular that at least potentially present exciting opportunities for synergies with the Wesleyan evangelical tradition:

1. new perspectives on Paul and Judaism
2. theological hermeneutics
3. missional Christianity
4. ancient-future movement

The chapters that follow will explore these "waves" in the evangelical church in greater detail, so we only need mention them only briefly here.

1.The "new perspective on Paul" has been a particular irritant to those in conservative Calvinist and Lutheran contexts. [2] To be sure, the "newness" has now worn off to some extent [3] and it might be better to speak of new perspectives than a singular new perspective. [4] Nevertheless, trends in the second half of the twentieth century have left an indelible impact on Pauline studies, whether you are sympathetic or hostile to the "new perspective." And Pauline studies are ground zero of the conservative Lutheran and Calvinist traditions.

At its root, the new perspective on Paul is about having a more accurate understanding of ancient Judaism than the stereotypical views that have prevailed among Christians for over a millennium. Once one has this understanding, we discover that Paul and the early church were far more in continuity with the Judaism of their context than we have often thought. Since Augustine and the Reformers built their fundamental theologies on a slightly skewed understanding of Paul, their heirs within Protestant evangelicalism suddenly find some of their most fundamental assumptions in question. It is thus no surprise to find these groups suddenly scrambling to address blind spots that were exposed almost overnight.

Yet as far as the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition is concerned, we suddenly find elements of Paul that we have long emphasized, now featured in a place of prominence. For example, Arminians have often been accused of being Pelagians, of affording too high a place for "works" in the Christian life. And our emphasis on "free will" of a sort also has been a point of attack as a deviation from Paul's teaching on total depravity and predestination.

To be sure, many of these attacks already have represented a skewing of the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition's actual positions, as Roger Olson has pointed out. [5] Yet it is interesting that our accusers now suddenly find themselves on the defence against powerful interpretations of Paul himself. Did Paul actually teach ultimate justification at least in part on the basis of works? Did Paul really actually teach total depravity? And of course the vast majority of Pauline scholars--even prominent Calvinist ones--no longer see Romans 7 as Paul's ongoing struggle with sin. Arminian positions--even misrepresented ones--suddenly find themselves in the forefront of interpretive possibilities.

2. Theological hermeneutics is, again, a somewhat diverse movement that has in common its concern to read the biblical texts not only (or not at all) for what they meant originally, but also in relation to the meaning and significance these texts might have for us as Christians today. This may sound like what evangelicals have been doing all along, but to pursue theological hermeneutics is to profess this goal in the light of two other developments. The first is the immense deepening in evangelical awareness of what it might mean to read the biblical texts in context--and the corresponding distance this understanding often creates between us and the text. The second is the rise of postmodern hermeneutics that recognizes the immense flexibility language can have.

The effect of these developments is to undermine some of the key concerns of the first generation of neo-evangelicals in the 40's (and what I will call their fundamentalist forebears). [6] For one, it has called into serious question the notion that the original meaning of the biblical text is the be all and end all of interpretation. The children and grandchildren of these founding evangelicals took seriously the charge to submit to the authority of the biblical text and to listen to its meaning in context wherever it led... and they found the biblical text leading, not least, away from the all importance of the original meaning.

Again, we have found some of the stalwart intellectuals of evangelicalism turning their backs on first principles--for example, following the Bible's lead--and instead applying their intellect to defend now traditional evangelical positions. A large commentary volume, for example, aims to deny the obvious creativity in the way the New Testament authors interpreted the Old. [7] And standing on the sidelines, somewhat bemused, are those traditions who used to be the butt of criticism for their typological and "Holy Ghost" exegesis: pietists, revivalists, charismatics. It turns out that, although they may have done it without sophistication or self-awareness, they were in many instances following the Bible's lead in terms of hermeneutics far more than the pillars of neo-evangelicalism ever did.

Another effect of these sorts of developments is a certain kind of complexity that accrues to the issue of the Bible's authority and "inerrancy." The more the evangelical community has grappled with the contexts of the Bible, the more complex the idea of biblical inerrancy has become. Surely an error must be judged according to the parameters of the texts themselves rather than according to some contemporary standard that is as much a product of our current context as anything else. For example, it has seemed more and more bizarre to use modern criteria for historical and scientific writing when the biblical texts were originally written in ancient contexts for ancient audiences.

And what of the sense of development and dialog that we seem to find in Scripture. Should we not then define error in terms of where a particular biblical writing was in that flow of revelation? And what then of the allowance for meaning in the biblical text beyond the literal? What particular meaning of the biblical text are we to consider without error? By the time one has addressed these issues, it becomes difficult even to know what the word inerrant means, leaving some simply to say ambiguously that the Bible is "inerrant in all it affirms." [8]

This situation is far more of a crisis for the more cognitively oriented evangelical traditions than it is for their more experiential cousins. [9] In evangelical groups of the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition, for example, many have always had a more intuitive sense of the Bible's meaning, in contrast to following a highly methodical, quasi-scientific method to arrive at it. To be sure, the proper meaning of the Bible has always held absolute authority in such circles. But because that meaning has not been limited to the original, historical meaning, the very word inerrancy, even where it has been used, has not usually taken on the more rigid sense it has in conservative Calvinist circles.

3. A third trend is the move toward what, for lack of a better word, we might call "missional" Christianity. [10] To be sure, one of the key concerns of American evangelicalism in the late twentieth century was evangelism, particularly among the less cognitively oriented parts of that fellowship. Indeed, some have argued that the church growth movement dominated cultural evangelicalism in the late twentieth century. [11]

What we are seeing at the dawn of the twenty-first century is a more holistic and robust sense of mission than was true of the church growth movement. Part of the fundamentalist-modernist controversy was a battle with what was then called a "social gospel." The intellectual world of American Christianity in the late 1800's had abandoned belief in miracles or the divinity of Christ, with the result that Christianity for them had become about following Jesus' example as a model human and helping the needy. The gospel had largely become limited to social concerns.

In keeping with human nature, the corresponding reaction in evangelicalism often came to associate helping the needy with liberalism. Ironically, one of the core concerns of the Gospels became a sign that one was not a good Christian. The current generation of younger evangelicals largely has not retained the memory of these earlier feuds. Responding to the clear message of the Bible, they recognize that the mission of Christianity must address the whole person, body, wallet, and social status included.

And it is with some pride that I point out that the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition has been where many younger evangelicals are only now arriving. John Wesley himself is a primary footnote in the history of England coming to establish child labor laws and abolish slavery. In America, Quakers and the Wesleyan Methodist connection were strong voices in the abolitionist movement. [12] Long before the feminist movement made it popular, these groups were championing the right of women to vote and preach. [13] The Salvation Army is itself a church in the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition. We are delighted to find that the rest of evangelicalism is finally coming to its senses!

Meanwhile, we not surprisingly find many in the conservative Calvinist tradition dragging their heals on issues like the ordination of women. [14] Forced to modify positions that even their followers would now recognize as blatantly unChristian, the modern complementarian movement is a dying attempt to maintain the primacy of the male in the home and church in the face of the obvious trajectory of the kingdom. To be sure, many complementarians are godly people whose problem is more with their heads than their hearts. And those of us in more pietist traditions, because we value the heart more than the head, are generously willing to wait for them to come around and see God's will here more clearly. We are convinced they will, as well as our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters.

4. A final trend we see taking place is what we are calling the "ancient-future" movement. [15] Younger evangelicals by and large have not inherited the strong feelings their grandparents had against Roman Catholics, probably in part because the Roman Catholicism of the last fifty years has itself become far less rigid since Vatican II. Where much of pop American evangelicalism used to react very aversely to anything that smacked of "empty ritual" or formalism, we are currently seeing a resurgence in interest in things like liturgy and sacramentalism.

Some of this resurgence corresponds to a revaluing of symbolism after the overemphasis on literalism that has so plagued modernism. We now find low church Protestants giving up things for Lent and holding Ash Wednesday services. We find evangelical fellowships where they take communion every Sunday and say the Apostle's Creed. We find evangelical colleges offering courses in the church fathers and the Ancient Commentary on the Bible series. [16]

In heremeneutics we find a dovetailing of this ancient-future trend with theological hermeneutics. There is an increased sense in some evangelical circles of the importance of the church beyond the New Testament in fleshing out the trajectory of the New Testament in doctrine. [17] Once again, the Wesleyan tradition is known for its more balanced hermeneutic, sometimes called the "Wesleyan Quadrilateral." [18] In this Wesleyan hermeneutic, reason, experience, and tradition are given an important role to play in figuring out God's will in addition to the primary element, Scripture.

The Wesleyan tradition is thus better situated to recognize the importance of the common faith of Christendom than other traditions for whom sola scriptura, "Scripture alone," has been a highly well defined priority. [19] Not only are we situated to flow with the new reappraisal of tradition, but we are well situated to engage the new reappraisal of experience. In our postmodern context, attention has been drawn to the inevitable perspective we as individuals bring to our understanding. Pietist, Wesleyan, and charismatic traditions have always had a significant place for experience in their hermeneutic, and we are better prepared to engage these realities than those evangelical traditions whose two points of reference have been Scripture and reason.

On Monday, d.v.... 1.2 The Wesleyan Evangelical Tradition

[1] Marsden and Noll.

[2] E.g., John Piper, The Future of Justification, one of the more polite responses.

[3] Francis Watson

[4] Wright, Justification

[5] Arminian Theology

[6] As I will mention below, it is not puzzling to me that two Reformed historians, George Marsden and Mark Noll, have chosen to define the more pre-modern elements of the early twentieth century as "fundamentalist," while excepting from that label those who actually took the "fundamentalist" side of the fundamentalist-modernist controversy.

I will subsequently refer to the revivalists and Pentecostals of the early twentieth century as more experientially oriented evangelicals, pre-moderns, and reserve the word fundamentalist for its more proper referrent--anti-moderns like J. Gresham Machen and the founders of Westminster Theological Seminary.

[7] Beale and Carson, Commentary on the Old Testament in the New.

[8] Asbury Theological Seminary

[9] Thus Greg Beale's new book

[10] Much of this concern is driven by the "emerging" and "emergent" movements, but the trend is much broader--and much more fundamentally Christian--than any label of this sort or any particular group today.

[11] Robert Webber, The Younger Evangelicals

[12] Quakers and Wesleyans both have a similar pietist and Arminian orientation.

[13] The woman's rights movement of the late 1800's was launched in a Wesleyan Methodist Church and one of the founders of the Wesleyan Methodist connection preached the sermon at the ordination of the first woman in America.

[14] Here we might mention Wayne Grudem and John Piper in particular.

[15] Again, this movement is also often associated with the emerging or emergent church. Whatever squabbles one might have with these groups, it would be foolish to dismiss all their ideas simply because we object to some of them. That is, in fact, fallacious reasoning.

[16] InterVarsity.

[17] I believe we have yet to see the real groundswell of this element in the equation. Theological hermeneutics in its current form has not yet fully let go of the original meaning as a guiding goal.

[18] John Wesley himself did not use or coin this term. It was rather coined by the Methodist historian Albert Outler as a description of Wesley's hermeneutic in practice.

[19] To be sure, John Wesley affirmed sola scriptura.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Peter Enns Question 4: My Review of Your Book

Here is the fourth installment of our interview with Pete Enns. Immense thanks for the time he is taking to respond to my questions!

You can read the earlier ones at the links below:

#1 Who are you?
#2 A Good Calvinist?
#3 How about them Nazarenes?

Question 4: Some of us at Indiana Wesleyan read through your book, Inspiration and Incarnation, and I blogged through it. Are there any points of our review that you would like to clarify or correct?

Part 1
I enjoyed reading the interaction on your blog, Ken. You had three posts, and I’d like to go one at a time and make some comments. Hope it spurs further discussion.

On the January 12 post:

1. I would like to make one correction concerning my departure from WTS. I was not “forced” to resign from WTS. I was never asked to resign. Rather, I resigned of my own accord and on my own initiative because I could not support the theological direction the school was taking, which in my view represented a decisive shift away from how I was taught at WTS in the late 1980s and the theological climate of most of my years on the faculty. I also saw where the momentum was heading concerning my place on the faculty, and felt that some form of separation was inevitable. Now, that might be what you mean by “forced,” but there you have it.

2. I very much appreciate the discussion on your blog about the tone of the book. Striking the right tone is hard with a book like this. Thus far, now almost 4 years after I&I came out (summer 2005), I can say the comments I have received are almost exclusively positive on the tone, even if some disagree with content. That was important to me. Still, I am always appreciative when friends tell me where I could have done better.

I would not say, though, that I was “rubbing it into the noses of Westminster.” It is important to keep a couple of things in mind. First, I had been teaching with complete transparency more or less the general content of I&I for a decade before it became a problem. Toward the end of that period, the composition of the faculty and administration changed, and these changes were concurrent with how my views were perceived.

Second, as has been well publicized, there was a strong majority of the faculty supportive of me throughout this period of conflict. They clearly did not at all feel like their noses were being rubbed in anything. My thoughts expressed in I&I may not represent precisely what everyone thought, but that is hardly worth pointing out, as thinking people engaged in the world of ideas will naturally differ on matters.

3. I agree with you that I&I looks to reframe issues that have been mishandled over the past 150 years or so in the fundamentalist and evangelical worlds. Evangelical theology is (still) at an impasse because it did not handle well some true developments and advances in biblical scholarship early on. In some quarters of evangelicalism, these same patterns are being perpetuated.

What was needed in the 19th century when new data came to light was a discussion on the doctrine of Scripture that could account for these data in a theologically constructive way. In my view, an almost entirely defensive posture was adopted (despite some real positive kinds of articulations from Old Princeton).

It is clear that some critical scholars at the time were using these data to discredit the Bible, and this prompted a reaction to protect the faith. I certainly understand that dynamic, but the conservative reaction took a wrong turn when it sought to protect the Bible FROM the data rather than engaging in synthetic thinking. In my view, much of the struggle today is over whether evangelicalism should have a synthetic model of biblical scholarship or a “separatist” model.

What is particularly disappointing to me in all this is that the Reformed tradition has very deliberate, well thought out, theological categories in place to support a synthetic model, but these categories were not deliberately employed to specific issues in the 19th century as much as they were needed. This set up a conflict between different articulations, even within a very conservative Reformed faith, where one side emphasizes the separatist model and others the synthetic model, both claiming (with a certain degree of truth) a conservative Reformed pedigree.

In my opinion, a theological paradigm was in place—be it incarnational (Bavinck), concursis (Warfield), or accomodationist (Calvin). But this paradigm remained on the level of theory rather than being applied to the many pressing issues of the day (e.g., Genesis and ANE myth, etc., etc.). That is a shame, for the theological potential of Old Princeton in this regard was never realized, and now, among conservative confessional types, a wholly defensive posture is quite common. I and the faculty majority have written on these matters, explaining the dynamic and progressive element present in the Old Princeton and Westminster tradition. I have not yet seen critics of our position defend their views against these writings.

4. You mention your disagreement with my use of the term “evangelical” to refer to my “detractors at Westminster and elsewhere.” You make a good point, if anything because of the fluidity of the term “evangelical.” I do think, though, that the views I am contending against in I&I are represented by more than “Calvinist fundamentalists.” There are many in the evangelical world who are very supportive of the type of theological project represented in I&I (e.g., Wesleyan evangelicals), but there are many others who would claim the general designation “evangelical” who are neither self-consciously Wesleyan nor “Calvinist fundamentalists.” I am wondering just what to call all these people who have some connection to an evangelical faith at a time when identity markers are clearly shifting. My use of the terms was an attempt to be as inclusive as possible.

Having said all this, I understand how frustrating and/or annoying it must be to you to be lumped into the same category “evangelical” as some of my critics. I agree with your view that many of my critics espouse positions that are more fundamentalist than evangelical, and it is good to call it for what it is. I am open to different terminology to describe unabashed “evangelical-ish” theology that rejects outright fundamentalism, but I don’t know what that would be. Perhaps it would be better to describe the more progressive articulations of evangelicalism as “evangelical” (which I would prefer) and invent a new term for the mixture of evangelicalism and fundamentalism with which I am contending, e.g., “fundagelicals.”

I kid because I love, of course, but the matter of terminology is very important. Because the theological expectations of someone calling him/herself “evangelical” is not at all fully outlined, people will continue to use the term assuming the validity of their own self-definition. This is one way where the exchanges between me and Greg Beale have some value: Beale is defending his understanding of the proper parameters of evangelicalism, where things like ANE myth and “non-contextual” exegesis of the OT by NT authors are out of place.

I think Beale is quite wrong, but expressing himself as he does brings matters of definition to the surface. Contrary to Beale, I am saying that evangelical theology must adapt to what is, rather than resist what it is in an effort to maintain familiar identity markers. Beale has in my opinion either left the evangelical spirit to espouse a fundamentalist posture, or is reflecting the inherent and inextricable fundamentalism in evangelicalism that could not stay hidden for long. This could be an interesting discussion, indeed.

All of this illustrates the problems with using the term “evangelical” for anything, and in retrospect I might have tried to use a different designation in the subtitle of I&I. I could have used the term “fundamentlist,” but the problem with that is that many evangelicals who pride themselves on not being fundamentalists in name nevertheless espouse a fundamentalist theology in approaching such things as ANE background, theological diversity, and the NT/OT problem. I wanted to address a problem that moves beyond fundamentalism proper and so the term evangelical had to do.

5. You mention that I “underplay the possible uniqueness of revelation” in keeping with the goals of I&I. I just want to underscore that you are correct in goal driving presentation, and I am still not entirely clear why some of my critics seem reluctant to see this. I have addressed this matter elsewhere.

My perception is that trouble for evangelicals arises not from a failure to appreciate the revelatory character of Scripture, but in how a commitment to revelatory uniqueness can co-exist theologically with the Bible’s very “human” face. The tendency to minimize the theological importance of the latter sets evangelicals up for unnecessary challenges to their faith, where, in perhaps more hostile settings, the “humanity” of Scripture is paraded front and center as evidence of its non-revelatory character.

My goal in I&I is to emphasize how at home the Bible is in its historical contexts (such a truism should not even need to be mentioned), and how that very factor is a theological positive rather than a problem that needs explaining. Scripture’s revelatory content is not something we see when keeping the cultural setting at a safe distance. Rather, like the incarnation of Christ, we see Scripture’s glory by embracing the lowly, encultured manner in which God chose to speak.

6. You mention that “myth” is not a word that can be redeemed. Perhaps. I use it, though, to co-opt it from those (liberal or fundamentalist) who assume that ANE mythic categories are unbecoming of Scripture. People lose their faith over this sort of thing, so my decision to use the word was very deliberate, to say “EVEN HERE you can see God’s wisdom in how he speaks.” It is not God’s word because it somehow manages to extricate itself from its historical setting or ancient conventions of communication, by the skin of its teeth. We are in no position to declare what genres of literature the Spirit can or can’t use, and our theological comfort level is not a determining factor in how God elects to speak.

More to come!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Pagan Christianity 5: The Sermon

This is the fifth installment of my review of Frank Viola's Pagan Christianity? I apologize for the earlier caustic language I used about Viola. I don't have hateful feelings toward him. I just think some of his argumentation is absurd. I've edited most of my caustic language out.

The previous reviews were:

1. Viola's Preface
2. Barna's Introduction
3. The Church Building
4. The Order of Worship

Today we look at chapter 5, "The Sermon: Protestantism's Sacred Cow." I'm so tired of this book. Can I rewrite it for him? It will be a lot shorter. Of course I will not be as rhetorically effective as Viola or as entertaining. He's obviously studied writing at some high school and college that no doubt taught composition following the techniques of Greco-Roman rhetoric.

And of course to stoop to using the book form would be to submit to pagan influence, since none of the Old or New Testament writers used the book form. They wrote on scrolls. The book form actually came into Christianity from pagan culture in the third century because Constantine wanted all the churches to have a standardized form of Scripture that could be mass produced and put into every basilica (that he ordered built to stamp out vibrant, open participatory meetings). He ordered 50 complete copies of the whole Bible made on book form, using the text he had chosen, and distributed throughout the empire.

Of course half of what I wrote above is a joke. And you should take half of what Viola writes about as seriously as what I just wrote too.

What's good in the chapter
Do church meetings have to have a sermon or homily given by an official minister in the same format to individuals who do not feel free to ask questions or interact with the speaker?

As far as I'm concerned, if Viola and others want to meet in a home, pray, search the Scriptures, study together, maybe occasionally have a visiting speaker who is obviously graced by God with particular wisdom, go for it. I affirm you.

How's that?

As for your critique of preaching? Barna's research suggesting that most sermons do not facilitate worship or draw people nearer to God, or convey life-changing information (104)? I suspect there is some substance to their claims about the effectiveness of most sermons.

Frankly, the same principles apply to college lectures. What is it, students will likely retain 5% of a lecture, making it the most ineffective form of teaching in itself?

Viola's five points on preaching are:

1. It makes a preacher a virtuoso performer with muted spectators who watch a performance (97).

2. It often stalemates spiritual growth by fostering passivity (97).

3. It preserves the unbiblical clergy mentality (98).

4. It doesn't equip the saints but de-skills them (98).

5. Today's sermon is often impractical (99).

Number 3 is the next chapter so I'll leave it alone for now. Yes, I would agree that in perhaps even the majority of churches the congregation mostly lets the pastor do the work of the ministry when they should be fully involved.

Yes, I would agree that a good many sermons do not have the congregation's "address" on them. People leave thinking, "What am I supposed to do with that?"

And yes, an aweful lot of preachers "get off" on their overestimated authority and wisdom (of course that can apply to professors, bloggers, book writers, and people invited to come speak at conferences). I have longed complained at the dynamic in America that can take a below average person who would have difficulty succeeding at any other job, gives him (less often her) a Bible, and suddenly this person can speak with the authority of God? Nah, most of the time they still don't have much to say.

I'm not, by the way, suggesting that all preachers are this way, not at all. I'm targeting a particular kind of pulpit "know it all" that is actually a "not know much at all." Only in democratic America, where there has often been a tinge of anti-intelletualism, is this phenomenon of the know-nothing pastor at all common.

On the other hand, some people are just wiser than others. Viola is surely one of them in many respects (despite what I say of him below). I fully agree with Augustine when he suggests that you cannot make a person into a great preacher. I believe you can improve a person's speaking ability. But generally, some people were born to have something to share and share it well and most weren't. And some people are gifted to be wise and most aren't.

Again, by "most" I don't mean most preachers, but most people.

I hope you'll forgive me for suggesting that good preaching is primarily about having wisdom to share. We tend to play games with the biblical text, as if any old person can preach if they preach the Bible. Viola likely thinks that any old person in his house church can share great wisdom from the Spirit. Sure. Anyone can have a moment of inspiration or insight.

But in my opinion, God has simply gifted some people in these areas and, most, He hasn't. Most of the time, the wise ones should be speaking, whether in a house church or from a pulpit. A person that God has anointed with wisdom will bring God's word to others around her or him (Viola seems to assume it will be a him). A person not anointed with wisdom will not bring much to those around him or her, even if they are speaking from the Bible.

And by the way, I would agree with Viola that the forty-fifty-ninety minute sermon is no sign of anything except probably a congregation bored out of their skull. These preachers do often leave me thinking they have an overblown sense of the importance of their own words. I bet the take away of the vast majority of congregations is less than five minutes of a sermon, no matter how long the preacher speaks. For me, anything over twenty minutes is usually a waste of time.

There are things lurking in Viola's chapter that should be heard.

Don't read further if you are a Viola groupee.
OK, there's the chapter. Or at least the chapter might have been more productive if it had developed the points above. Instead, like Fonzi in the waning seasons of Happy Days, Viola always jumps the shark. Five pages into the chapter I wrote, "Oh, Come on" in the margin.

So he's going to blame the Christian sermon on pagan Greco-Roman rhetoric snuck into the church by Chrystostom and Augustine, after the vibrant open-participatory meetings of the early church died out?

Same myopia again and again and again:

1. All human life and thinking is enculturated, all the time. It is the nature of incarnation. It is misguided to try (and impossible) to tease out the Christian or absolute from the particular cultural forms of the day. All truth is incarnated and inculturated truth.

2. This was no less true of the life and thinking of the New Testament church and the Old Testament. The New Testament is at the same time thoroughly inspired and thoroughly pagan, in Viola's sense. God sanctifies people and thoughts within culture. He has not set up the system to where you can remove people and thoughts from culture.

And here let me give some reasons why I think Viola is nuts when he tries to pin rhetoric on those pesky church fathers.

1:1-5 Prescript (letter opening used in "pagan" letters)
1:11-2:14 Narratio
2:15-21 Propositio
3:1-5:1 Argumentatio
5:2-10 Peroratio
5:11-18 Postscript

Looks a little to me like someone might have studied a little Greco-Roman rhetoric on the side. In other letters Paul has a thanksgiving section (e.g., 1 Thess. 1:2-10), which he borrowed from pagan letters that thanked the gods at this same point in their letters! Paul's omission of this section in Galatians is usually considered rhetorically significant!

Whether you agree with this outline or not, there is an entire branch of New Testament studies called "rhetorical criticism," which brings knowledge of the rhetorical conventions of the day to bear on the interpretation of the New Testament.

The majority of scholars currently would consider Hebrews a sermon (13:22). Viola might try to argue that a "word of exhortation" was spontaneous in the early church from Acts 13:15. But Hebrews looks like it might have involved quite a bit of sermon preparation!

It opens in "periodic" style, a high style of Greek oratory. For example, the first verse has a string of p words: "polymeros kai polytropos palai ho theos tois patrasin en tois prophetais."

Filthy pagan! I'm appauled to find that Old Testament writers wrote pagan acrostic psalms, copied pagan Egyptian wisdom sayings, drew on pagan mythical imagery. I'm disgusted that New Testament authors use chiasms, inclusios, allegories, similes, synecdoches, metonymy, asyndeton... They draw on Jewish wisdom and apocalyptic traditions. John even draws on the logos of Middle Platonism found in the writings of Philo. Throw out the New Testament because it has been influenced by paganism!

Not really. I guess God doesn't operate the way Viola thinks He does. Oops. Kind of embarrassing, if you ask me.

P.S. Isn't Hebrews 5:11-6:12 an interesting example of captatio benevolentiae? And certainly we can all agree that Hebrews 11:32 a lovely example of praeteritio?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Tom Wright: Justification 3

I doubt I will get to Darwin's second chapter today--hopefully next Wednesday.

This is my review of the third chapter of N. T. Wright's, Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision, Wright's response to John Piper's book, The Future of Justification.

Chapters reviewed thus far:
Chapter 1: What's it all about and why does it matter
Chapter 2: Rules of engagement

Chapter 3: First Century Judaism: Covenant, Law, and Law Court
It is probably my own failing, but this chapter strikes me as Wright's clearest presentation to date of the inner dynamic of his signature themes. These themes are always there in his writings, but it seems to me the inner dynamics often lurk beneath the surface. You see the surface text, the visible part of the iceberg. But these inner dynamics to Wright sometimes are not obvious on the surface if you join one of his texts in progress.

And of course that makes some of these ideas more likely to be part of the 20% where he's wrong. I have significant confidence in the consensus judgments of scholarship (not absolute confidence, obviously). It is when a scholar is doing their thing that they must be examined most carefully. This paragraph raises a number of rejoinders, I know, but I'm just going to stop there and move on.

Wright starts the chapter with a flashback, back to grad school days, while reading through Josephus. "Then and there I realized that most Jews of the time were not sitting around discussing how to go to heaven, and swapping views on the finer points of synergism and sanctification" (37). Fair enough.

I personally think it is beyond question that a lot of the questions we most debate over in conservative Protestant circles are not the issues Jews of the day were. The New Testament is not about how to get to heaven. It isn't even clear about whether heaven is the place of our eternal destiny. Fair enough.

Many Jews at the time were expecting that God would "bring Israel back from exile" at that time. They were reading Daniel 9, which they believed pointed to return from exile at about that time. As Wright says, "All generalizations are misleading," a statement which surely is meant to bring a smile to our face, given that this statement is a generalization.

If I were to critique Wright on this signature, "return from exile" idea, it is only that he perhaps overplays it. Yes, I think we have ample evidence to suggest that many Jews in Jesus' day did not believe that Israel was where it was supposed to be in the world. It was supposed to be free of foreign rule. It was supposed to be more faithful to God than it was.

At the same time, I don't want to subsume all these things under the heading "return from exile," for I think that skews the perspective. Return from exile is one way of expressing this sense of "wrongness to Israel's current status," but I strongly hesitate to make it the lens through which that "wrongness" is subsumed.

By the way, regardless of what we might debate about Wright's spin, it is hard to believe that there are imbeciles out there of the magnitude he seems to describe as his opposition. For example, are there really people trying to argue with him that the fact Israel had returned from exile physically precludes the possibility that Jews at the time didn't believe they had truly returned?

Wright sees two major implications for Pauline theology. First, Jews saw themselves as part of a narrative stretching back from earliest times and toward a climactic moment of deliverance. The ending of the story had not arrived.

OK. Yes. There is some truth to this. The question is the degree to which Wright has a far more developed version of that story than they did.

Second, Wright believes they read this story through the lens of Daniel 9. Wright claims that Josephus shows that Daniel was popular at the time. I have yet to figure out where in Josephus Wright means. He gives a couple references in the endnotes, Jewish War 6.312 and 3.399-408. It seems a thin prop for such a significant element in his agenda. What texts does he have in mind?

I'm open to being convinced, but Wright's evidence here seems rather thin to me at this point. It seems much more likely to me, to use his own illustration, that he is hearing a resonance of the first century situation and mistaking it for the central note.

Or to use my own illustration, the picture Wright is drawing uses genuine dots from the ancient world. But the most important parts of the picture he makes are in between the dots, in the lines he draws between them. You can draw a parallelogram from three dots, but the most natural picture to draw is a triangle.

I'm afraid I have the same reaction to Wright that Dunn does, of whom Wright says, he "has never been able to see what I am talking about" (43).

Wright seems to draw his central understanding of God's righteousness in Paul from Daniel 9, and Daniel 9 also provides a great picture of what he understands by covenant. When I read this section, I felt like the disciples in John 16:29, "Now you are speaking plainly." Now I can see why you make some of the distinctions you do, where it comes from.

You had this idea about Daniel 9 a long time ago and you've exported it everywhere else as you've interpreted the rest of the New Testament and Judaism. It's been there, almost beneath the surface, the x factor that explains why I've so often found certain statements a little puzzling, wondering why some particular point is so important to you.

Daniel 9 mixes for Wright with Deuteronomy 27-30, sprinkled with Sanders' covenantal nomism and voila. God had intended Israel to bring God to the whole world. But they have not been faithful to God's plan. They had never returned from exile for their sin, but they were about to. God was about to be faithful to his covenant with Abraham and Israel and thus restore His people. And it was all happening right now.

A lot of true elements here, but the picture has so much of Wright in it that I think he falls prey to imposing too much system on the biblical texts.

Part 2 Where Wright thinks Piper is wrong.

Wright doesn't think that Piper is massively wrong. But he does have these points:

1. Piper ignores the massive literature on the phrase "the righteousness of God." Piper does have a strange understanding of the righteousness of God here: "God's concern for his own glory." That's just bizarre. Wright's "covenant faithfulness" is on track, but I think it is, again, dubious methodologically to introduce the covenant word when it is not generally used in the OT texts in direct use.

God's propensity to be faithful to His relationship with His people and the world is, in my opinion, a more circumspect definition, with all the caveats Wright makes about not misinterpreting the word relationship in modern categories. Relationship is how two things relate to one another (47).

2. It is not at all clear how Piper's idiosyncratic definition of God's righteousness works out with his desire for God, the judge, to impute his own righteousness to us, the defendants.

Yes, this is nothing short of bizarre on Piper's part.

3. Piper's attempts to distance the righteousness of God from the idea of covenant faithfulness fails to convince.

Here Wright pushes his own more idiosyncratic ideas about the importance of Israel being supposed to be the conduit of God's blessing of all the nations. I'm open, but Wright has not yet convinced me that Paul understands Israel to be the linchpin of God's plan to bless the nations and that Israel has failed to do its job.

I hate to say it, but I find Sanders more likely than Dunn or Wright here. Paul in his writings seems to be working back from the solution to the problem, than planning from the beginning Wright's new systematic narrative. It seems to me that Wright is doing exactly what the Reformers and Augustine did in systematizing Paul. It's just they did it with propositions and he's doing it with narrative.

4. Piper tries to downplay the importance of the law-court metaphor.

Being justified is not about moral righteousness or virtue. It's about a not guilty verdict. The judge doesn't transfer his (or her) righteousness to the defendant.

5. Piper has God's righteousness going in the wrong direction. The emphasis is not on God glorifying himself in some narcissistic way but in "God's overflowing, generous, creative love" (51). "It isn't that God basically wants to condemn and then finds a way to rescue some from disaster" (52). "God's righteousness is that quality or attribute because of which he saves his people." Now there's a definition I can live with.

Here, here.

Part 3
This third section seems to affirm Sanders' key idea that keeping the law for the Jews was not so much about "getting in" as in "staying in." Wright mentions Variegated Nomism again, saying this: "The essays in large part support Sanders' overall case more than (we may suppose) the editors had hoped when they commissioned them" (55).

In conclusion, "the key question facing Judaism as a whole was not about individual salvation, but about God's purposes for Israel and the world" (56-57). "Israel will be vindicated, will inherit the age to come -- but it will be Israel that has kept Torah, or that, through penitence and amendment of life... has shown the heartfelt desire to follow God's ways and be loyal to his covenant" (57).

To me, this seems a fair enough description of the form of Judaism that constitutes the backdrop of the early Christian movement.

Next installment will probably be Saturday...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tom Wright: Justification 2

I won't be doing one of these every day, but I did have a chance to read Wright's second chapter of Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision. The second chapter is titled, "Rules of engagement."

My summary/review of the first chapter is here.

The thrust of this chapter is to say that exegesis of biblical texts is messy, but it is a core value for evangelicals. Its product is not systematic theology. The goal is the sermon, not a tidy system.

This sentence ironically summarizes Wright's critique of Piper well: "Proper evangelicals are rooted in scripture, and above all in the Jesus Christ to whom scripture witnesses, and nowhere else" (34).

Part 1
Again, Wright is thoroughly modernist in this chapter. In that sense I believe his hermeneutic is incomplete. He is right insofar as he is reminding us how to determine what the text meant originally. And thus he is right insofar as he critiques Piper, whose exegesis often qualifies as pre-modern, unaware of how read a text in its original context. To that extent, the metaphor of Piper trying to show Wright that the sun goes around the earth is apt.

Wright again gives great illustrations. He tells one about a woman who came to church the Sunday after Princess Diana died. But the pastor decided to follow the lectionary and preached on Mary, the mother of Jesus. After the sermon, the woman was in tears of puzzlement and grief. "Can you help me get the sermon's point?"

This woman, Wright means to say, is like Piper and others who come to the biblical text for answers to questions the text never addressed in the first place. "The history of the reading of Paul is littered with similar mistakes -- not always quite so obvious, but mistakes none the less: texts pressed into service to address questions foreign to the apostle, entire passages skimmed over in the hunt for the key word or phrase which fits the preconceived idea" (25).

One fun ironic move Wright makes in the first half of this chapter is to note that individuals like Piper, although they would fight tooth and nail for Paul as the literal author of Ephesians, still generally ignore it when they are reconstructing Paul's theology. He suggests that Piper would be much more accepting of the "new perspective" if he had begun there (28). "No wonder Lutheran scholars have been so suspicious of it. But why should that apply to conservative readers for whom it is every bit as much Holy Writ as Romans or Galatians."

Fun, although I don't think a person should start their theology of Paul with Ephesians. Then the skewing just goes in the opposite direction. Ephesians is distinct from Paul's other writings, regardless of affirming Pauline authorship. In my opinion, Wright, Johnson, and others are guilty of sloppy exegesis here, although they are popular at that point for the same reason Piper is--they come off as more traditional.

Wright ends the section with some very sound thoughts on distinguishing traditional interpretation from original meaning. He rightly points out again that "when faced with both the 'new perspective' and some of the other features of more recent Pauline scholarship, 'conservative' churches have reached, not for scripture, but for tradition, as with Piper's complaint that I am sweeping away fifteen hundred years of the church's understanding" (28).

I must point out, that he is referring to conservative Calvinists and Lutherans here. We Wesleyan-Arminians are quite carnally delighted to find out that our understanding of Paul fits much more nicely with these turns in scholarship than the Reformation mafia's does. The theology that the Reformers rejected has become the head of the corner... :-)

Not that Wright is Wesleyan-Arminian. Certainly Dunn is not. Sanders I think is, in background, although it won't do me any good politically to claim him. :-) Strong (foreign) Calvinist elements remain in some of Wright and Dunn's interpretations, I believe.

The reason I believe the return to reading Paul in his Jewish context--which is really what the new perspective is about--favors Arminian theology is because I believe the Jewish focus on concrete behavior remained in Paul's theology much more strongly than allowed for in Calvinist or certainly in Lutheran theology.

Wright rightly points out that doctrinal statements, not just those of Nicaea or Chalcedon, are a product of their time. Anselm did not unfold his spin on penal substitution in a vacuum, nor was the Westminister Confession created in a bubble. Piper and the neo-Reformed treat the WC the same way older Roman Catholics might have treated Trent. [I'm embellishing Wright a little, although not too much here]

Wright smiles on our esteemed fellow blogger Mike Bird, as well as J. I. Packer, for the fact that--while they affirm the idea of the imputation of Christ's righteousness theologically--they recognize that Paul never explicitly states it. The bottom line for Wright: "when our tradition presses us to regard as central something which is seldom if ever actually said by Paul himself we are entitled, to put it no more strongly, to raise an eyebrow and ask questions" (30).

Part 2
In the rest of the chapter, Wright rightly takes Piper to task for his feeble attempt to deny (that the earth goes around the sun) that the way to know what Paul meant is to read his words against the backdrop of the way words were used in Paul's day. This section, really, reveals what is really going on with Piper. Basically, contextual interpretation has caught him with his theological pants down.

What do you say when all of a sudden someone points out the obvious--uh, these words probably had a meaning to the people they were actually written to... and that meaning probably is a function of the way people used words at the time. What do you say? You're pants are down. It's embarrassing.

So Piper responds, "No they're not."

Wright: "Yes they are."

Piper, "Come back you lily livered coward. I'll bite your knees off."

Piper's feeble response is, we have to go with the obvious (to me given my schooling in the Calvinist tradition) meaning of the text without bringing in "dubious" information from the ancient world. Or in the words of early 1990's Saturday Night Live skit Cave Man Lawyer, "Your tall buildings frighten me."

Wright: "it is clear that what he [Piper] means is 'Please do not be seduced, by N. T. Wright or anyone else, into imagining that you need to read the New Testament within its first-century Jewish context'" (31).

By the way, Wright gives a good side critique of just one of D. A. Carson "My pants aren't on fire" projects, Justification and Variegated Nomism (another would be his Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament). These are nothing but the dying gasps of the Ptolemaic scientists who feel threatened by a heliocentric universe.

I have dipped into Variegated on various Early Jewish literature and have been puzzled almost every time. I have been puzzled because I haven't really found much to object to--nor have I found material that drastically undermined new perspective views on Judaism.

Here is Wright's comment: "To the extent that the essays there [in Variegated] are fully scholarly, they do not make the case their principal editor claims they do; to the extent that they appear to do so, they are themselves subject to question as being, to put it mildly, parti pris" (31-32).

The chapter ends with a critque of the NIV that, again, superbly fits things I have long said, although perhaps some of Wright's statements are a little extreme. While Wright was initially enthusiastic about the translation, "I discovered that the translators had had another principle, considerably higher than the stated one; to make sure that Paul should say what the broadly Protestant and evangelical tradition said he said" (35). "I do know that if a church only, or mainly, relies on the NIV it will, quite simply, never understand what Paul was talking about."


The TNIV has since corrected many of my issues with the NIV translation, just as the current generation of evangelical scholars are much better at reading the Bible in context than the first, American generation of evangelicals was (British evangelicals like F. F. Bruce and R. T. France have generally been superior to their American counterparts).

Help me think about pain...

... theoretically. No physical takers, please!

I'm trying to finish editing the chapter of the philosophy book on the problem of evil. It's a difficult chapter because it's a difficult issue. I wanted to hear anyone's thoughts on the following paragraphs, especially from any atheists or skeptics out there.
On the one hand, it is surely true that not all pain is ultimately bad. Sometimes pain can lead to greater happiness, like an unpleasant shot that helps you get over a serious illness. Of course, recognizing the potential pay off of pain is usually of little comfort when we are in the middle of the suffering. Nevertheless, we can find some truth even in Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous saying that “what does not kill me makes me stronger.”[i]

"Man [sic] is in the process of becoming the perfected being whom God is seeking to create. However, this is not taking place… by a natural and inevitable evolution, but through a hazardous adventure in individual freedom… If, then, God’s aim in making the world is the “bringing of many sons to glory” [Heb. 2:10], that aim will naturally determine the kind of world that He has created." (John Hick, Evil and the God of Love, 256)

From a philosophical standpoint, it is not clear that death in itself is evil or even that suffering is. They are usually undesirable to us, to be sure. But it is not clear that they are evil. As un-reassuring as it is, it is quite possible that the problem of evil sometimes looms larger to us than it should, simply because we do not have a good sense of the overall picture or of what is ultimately of greatest importance. We think our individual lives to be more significant than they really are in the vast scheme of things. We exaggerate the significance of our pains and pleasures.

And we should probably point out that our insignificance becomes infinitely greater if there is no God. If there is no God, then—while we may become infinitely significant to ourselves—we turn out simply to be biological machines meaninglessly concerned with our own fortunes and circumstances. If undirected, atheistic evolution is the ultimate explanation of what a person is, then there is no goodness—or evil—to the world at all. The fittest survive, the weak get eaten, and neither outcome really matters one way or another beyond the feelings of the few, insignificant animals involved.

Certainly it is the fallacy of subjectivism to think that something is true just because it is convenient for me. Yet the existence of God would seem to be the only hope for suffering having any real meaning at all beyond ourselves and those who care for us. Ironically, while the continuance of suffering raises the strongest objections to the idea of a God of love, it is only the notion of God’s love for the world that makes suffering significant at all beyond the chemical reactions in the brains of a half dozen homo sapiens.

[i] Twilight of the Idols.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Tom Wright: Justification 1

Forasmuch as I have blogged through John Piper's The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright, it seemed good to me also, having received in the mail my copy of Tom Wright's rejoinder, Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision, to write unto thee in order, most excellent lover of Pauline theology, that thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein Piper and Wright have instructed.

Chapter 1: "What's all this about, and why does it matter?"
Illustration 1: learning the earth goes around the sun
Wright begins with a beautifully patronizing introduction, as we might expect of a Brit (or a blogger). Actually Wright is fairly civilized about it, as Piper was also very civilized. These are both good men, godly people, I think we can agree, both of which are very convinced they are correct. I agree significantly more with Wright than with Piper, but they are both good eggs.

Wright calls Piper "friend" (5) and says of his work, "he has been scrupulously fair, courteous and generous in all our exchanges" (11). Wright notes that he writes as a pastor just as Piper does (11). Wright suggests there develop a "Christian ethic of blogging" (10) in relation to some of the more vituperous attacks on him online (physician heal ourselves).

By the way, although Wright obviously wrote this chapter before it happened, the response to Scot McKnight's blurb on the back was an example of the "neo-Reformed" attacks. The blurb goes like this: "Tom Wright has out-Reformed America's newest religious zealots -- the neo-Reformed -- by taking them back to Scripture and to its meaning in its historical context. Wright reveals that the neo-Reformed are more committed to Tradition than to the Sacred Text. This irony is palpable on every page of this judicious, hard-hitting, respectful study." For some of the McKnight fall out, see here.

Anyway, Wright's opening illustration is about someone who comes to your house to stay the night and who has never heard the idea that the earth goes around the sun. The person listens politely to your ideas with some alarm, then takes you out in the morning to show you the sunrise and tell you that you really should not pay too much attention to new theories and such but go with the tried and true of experience.

Delightfully patronizing, but he goes on in softer tones. It really doesn't come off as in your face as you move on. Here is a great quote: "I used to tell my students that at least 20 percent of what I was telling them was wrong, but I didn't know which 20 per cent it was" (4). I'm sure the rest of us would be glad to tell him :-)

His main points with this starting illustration are these:

1. The kinds of things that Piper is telling us are safer to stick with than Wright's new fangled theories are, in fact, traditions (6). "The greatest honour we can pay the Reformers is not to treat them as infallible... There is considerable irony, at the level of method, when John Piper suggests that, according to me, the church has been 'on the wrong foot for fifteen hundred years'. It isn't so much that I don't actually claim that. It is that that is exactly what people said to his heroes, to Luther, Calvin and the rest. Luther and Calvin answered from scripture, the Council of Trent responded by insisting on tradition" (6-7). I critiqued Piper similarly.

2. We are not the center of the universe (7). To treat the doctrine of justification of ME by faith as the center of things is to get things out of focus.

As the first half of this first chapter comes to a close, Wright reminds his detractors that the "new perspective" actually entails quite a bit of diversity within it, from Sanders, to Dunn, to Wright, to others. There is no monolithic enemy to shoot at.

Illustration 2: taking all the puzzle pieces out of the box
Wright's second illustration is less patronizing... until he gets to the East German secret police. He talks about a test you had to take to be part of the Stasi. You had to fit blocks into the appropriate holes. "When the test was complete, all the blocks were slotted into the frames; but it turned out that, while some of the ex-Stasi officers were indeed quite intelligent, most of them were simply very, very strong" (15). :-)

So Wright notes the absence of Romans 2:25-29 and 10:6-9 in Piper's book, very important pieces for Wright. He mentions the importance of participation in Christ for Paul, consideration of echoes of the Old Testament that go beyond the actual quotes Paul makes, and Wright gets to his signature idea, Paul's understanding of the story of Israel as key.

Illustration 3: mistaking a resonance for the actual note played
Wright ends the chapter with one of those illustrations that tells you right off he's a smarter person than you are. He talked of how when you play, say, a low A on a piano--if you have the loud petal down--you will hear resonances of the A an octave up, then the E above that, then the next A, and so forth...

Clearly he means to say is that the Reformation giants heard true resonances of Paul but occasionally mistook the resonance for the key note. He ends the chapter with words like these: "There is no such thing as a pure return to the Reformers. They themselves have been heard and re-heard repeatedly in echo chambers that they would not have recognized" (20).

The solution? "[W]e return to history... It's time to get back to reading with first-century eyes and twenty-first century questions" (20-21).

Herein Wright reveals that he is still modernist, all too modernist. As a Christian reader, this approach does not, in my opinion, get him where he thinks it gets him. Nevertheless, it does, as he says, get him more toward the historical meaning of the text than Piper's method does.

The Second World Depression

I don't know that we're headed for a depression. I hope not. But it occurred to me today that they called World War I, "The Great War," until the second one came along. So would the "Great Depression" become "The First World Depression"? We'll see...

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Calvin making no sense...

Calvin: nothing at all in the world is undertaken without his determination...

Calvin: I grant more: thieves and murderers and other evildoers are the instruments of divine providence, and the Lord himself uses these to carry out the judgments that he has determined with himself. Yet I deny that they can derive from this any excuse for their evil deeds. Why? Will they either involve God in the same iniquity with themselves, or will they cloak their own depravity with his justice? They can do neither. In their own conscience they are so convicted as to be unable to clear themselves; in themselves they so discover all evil, but in him only the lawful use of their evil intent, as to preclude laying the charge against God. Well and good, for he works through them. And whence, I ask you, comes the stench of a corpse, which is both putrefied and laid open by the heat of the sun? All men see that it is stirred up by the sun's rays; yet no one for this reason says that the rays stink." Thus, since the matter and guilt of evil repose in a wicked man, what reason is there to think that God contracts any defilement, if he uses his service for his own purpose? Away, therefore, with this doglike impudence, which can indeed bark at God's justice afar off but cannot touch it.

Calvin: all things happen by God's plan, and that nothing takes place by chance...

Schenck: My problem with Calvin's thinking here is not the middle paragraph by itself. It seems coherent to me to suggest that God can use the evil intents and actions of others to bring about good purposes. My problem is that, prior to this paragraph, he has been hammering the fact that God directs everything. Unless I have misunderstood him, the implication seems to be that Calvin not only sees God using the evil intents and actions of others, but that God has caused the evil intents and actions themselves. That would be the point where I don't think he makes sense.

The more I read Calvin, the more my expectations are confirmed. First, he was an incredible thinker in his day, an amazing one. I am especially impressed by his ability to throw around classical and patristic quotations.

Second, his hermeneutic is dated. I am nowhere near his capacity, but standing at the beginning of the twenty-first century on the shoulders of so many who have come in between, his ability to read the Bible in context looks very thin at times.

This is not a blight on Calvin, but it does make the kind of people who went after Enns look pretty stupid. They are intellectual Amish, mistaking the sixteenth century for absolute truth.

Sunday Paul 2: Excerpt from the first chapter

I didn't intend to share the first chapter of the Paul novel here, but I wanted to know what people might think of this excerpt. The setting is Paul about to appear before the Areopagus in Athens:
Paul relished the opportunity to speak to them. To be sure, Athens was not the impressive city Paul had imagined it to be. It may have been a great city in the past, back in the days of Pericles and the philosophers. But to Paul it was nothing compared to a city like Tarsus, where he grew up. Paul grew up in the third largest city of the empire, and he was most at ease in big cities like Corinth and Ephesus.

Paul had read some Stoic philosophy way back, when for a short time his parents put him in a Greek gymnasium in Tarsus. That was before his parents sent him off to live with his sister in Jerusalem in his late-teens. He found some of the Stoic philosophy attractive, although he had no time at all for the Epicureans.

For example, the Stoics believed God had a will for your life and that it was pointless to fight against it. You should love your fate and in all things be content, no matter your circumstances. Later when he studied in Jerusalem, he found very similar teaching in some of the Essene writings. God had divided up humanity into the sons of light and the sons of darkness. You had no real choice in the matter as to which one you were.

Of course he was a Pharisee at the time, not an Essene. He found the Pharisaic approach a bit more balanced. God had a will to be sure, but we needed to work our way through life making the best choices we could, toward what we understood to be God’s goals. He would make sure his way was accomplished, and you would know where you stood in that plan by how it all turned out.

Even as a Pharisee, he leaned more toward the School of Shammai rather than that of Hillel. The School of Shammai was more about action. God would accomplish his will while you were working to accomplish his will. The school of Hillel was more passive. Let God do what God will do.

He kept some of his views along these lines to himself, especially when he began pursuing the daughter of the famous Hillelite Pharisee, Gamaliel. Gamaliel very much took the passive view of God’s will, much more than Paul did. He was famous for saying that God would work out his plan even if we did nothing.

That was not Paul’s way. Paul was a man of action. He was a doer. He did give the issue a second look when Jesus revealed himself to him. So many followers of the Way were Essenes. Paul could agree with them that God decided who was chosen and who was true Israel. Yes, surely God was in control of all that happened in the world ultimately.

But it was his job to find out who those chosen ones were. He scarcely took the time to connect the dots. The things he affirmed about God’s control over the world played almost no role at all in how he went about his mission. He proclaimed the good news as if anyone could be saved. He urged his converts to remain faithful, believing that those who were right with God today could end up not being right with God in the end. And those who seemed chosen for destruction might actually turn out to be saved in the end.

Yes, somewhere behind the scenes God was mysteriously directing the whole process. But getting there was full of human choices and Paul ruled out no possibility because of this or that theory. His part was to do whatever he could to see as many saved as possible. God would sort out the details.

Sunday Paul: Ephesus 3

I decided to continue with the sequence I started a week ago. I've been trying to back fill the story a little this week too, but I think I'll do that on the side.

Ephesus 1
Ephesus 2

The second question in the letter had to do with eating food that had come from one of the surrounding temples. Paul knew well enough what stood behind the question. He had warned Erastus during his last visit that he would have to make a choice at some point between his ambitions in the politics of Corinth and his loyalty to Christ's kingdom.

It was not enough in Roman politics simply to fund public projects. You had to see and be seen, and many of the city's functions revolved around the local temples. For example, the temple of Asclepius had side rooms where you could eat the meat from your sacrifice. One room had become a common meeting place for leaders in the city. They would sacrifice in the evening and then eat the meat and drink wine long into the night with great revelry.

Erastus knew he needed to be at those meetings to get anywhere higher in the city's administration, even though they weren't official meetings. It wasn't that Erastus was from some noble family or something. Indeed, almost no one in Corinth was. The city had only been refounded by Julius Caesar less than a hundred years previous, settled by former soldiers. Someone like Erastus couldn't have gone anywhere in politics at Rome. But Corinth was one of those unusual places in the world where you could actually move up the social ladder. There was little inherited wealth.

True, Erastus no longer had any real allegiance to the gods of the Greeks and Romans. Apollos had thoroughly convinced him that these gods didn't exist. But Paul approached the issue a little differently than Apollos did. It was strange for Paul to be pegged as the conservative on the issue, when the Jerusalem church considered him a lawless antinomian, someone who had abandoned the Law altogether.

The Jerusalem church was unbending on the issue of anything that had been sacrificed or offered to an idol. Many of their surrogates outside Palestine went so far as to suggest that Jews, including Gentile believers in Christ, should become vegetarians rather than chance eating meat that had come from a nearby pagan temple. So many animals were slaughtered every day--and especially after a feast day--that the local temples and their priests could sell the excess in the marketplace to bolster their intake. The most scrupulous of Jews simply didn't buy meat at such places. He had heard that some in the Roman churches advocated this position.

But Paul saw no reason to abandon meat altogether. He respected those who did, but he was content to give the Corinthians a "don't ask" policy on the issue. He did not flagrantly ignore the purity rules of Leviticus. But he had stood his ground at Antioch on the issue six years ago, and he wasn't about to change his mind now. The unity of the church took precedence over almost all of the purity rules, that is, except the sexual ones.

For Paul, questions about these sorts of works of the Law had a tendency to divide Jew from Gentile believer in a way that undermined the very heart of the gospel message and the Gentile mission. And didn't all the animals belong to God anyway? As the Corinthians said in their letter, "We know that an idol is nothing in the world." And they reminded Paul of the Shema, the cornerstone of biblical faith, "There is no God but one."

Paul knew he was hearing Apollos' teaching being read back to him. Indeed, Apollos and Paul had debated these things in the school. Apollos still had Philo ringing in his ear from his days growing up in Alexandria. "There are no evil angels," he argued. "All the angels are ministering servants, sent to minister to those about to inherit salvation. These temples are empty and those who worry about them worry about empty space."

Paul, on the other hand, was more in tune with the thinking of Jesus and the Jerusalem church on this one. "The Satan and demons fill those temples," he would fire back. "Why would a believer in Jesus want to eat at the table of demons?" These were some of the issues they were working through at the school in the Hall of Tyrannus. And they were far from academic in a world where the temples of the Geniles and their impact were everywhere! Paul would eventually convince him that the Devil--as Apollos preferred to call the Satan--was at work in the temples.

On the other hand, most believers couldn't afford meat regularly anyway. In that sense, the question of whether or not to eat meat was primarily at issue for the few in the Corinthian church who were well off, people like Erastus and Gaius.

Paul decided to steer a middle course in his response. Yes, they are right; an idol is nothing. Yes, they are right, for us there is only one God despite all the other so-called gods, and Christ is our only Lord. Everything belongs to God. So they shouldn't worry about food in the marketplace. Food is neither clean nor unclean. It's rather a question of how you think about the food. If it is truly God's food for you, then it is clean for you. That was his concession to Apollos and the wealthy in the church.

On the other hand, demonic forces did exist in the world, and they filled the Gentile temples more than any other place. Eating at one of these temples was like eating at the table of a demon. Why would anyone want to be associated with such a thing? At a person's home, if they served meat, just don't ask where it came from and eat it with thankgiving. If a fellow believer tells you it came from a temple, don't eat it for their sake.

What Paul tried to bring out that following Christ was not just a matter of you as an individual. We followed Christ together, as a collective body of Christ. The Spirit of Christ was in us as a whole even more than in each one of us as an individual. We were God's possession, not our own to do as we saw fit. So when our knowledge and our freedom as an individual became harmful to others in the body, we needed to surrender them.

Paul truly believed that he had lived out this principle in his mission. Back in Tarsus he had it easy. His father had servants to do all the manual labor of leather working and tent making. And in Jerusalem he had run with the highest leaders of the Pharisees. Twenty years ago it would have been an insult for him to work with his hands, but he did it willingly for the good of the gospel.

Meanwhile, apostles like Peter and James travelled around with their wives and enjoyed the best meals and lodging that their hosts could afford. It was good enough for them, Paul thought. They didn't stay in one place long enough for the strings of patronage to become a major problem.

Not so for him. If he received patronage from wealthy Gentiles, they would have expectations of him. It might hinder him from being forthright with them. And he was now staying in urban centers for years on end. He might receive support from a church after he left, like Philippi, but it was his policy to support himself while he was situtated at a place. Barnabas felt exactly the same.

In the end, Paul felt very sure of what needed to happen at Corinth, indeed, he almost had an immediate sense of what needed to be done in any situation. It was his savant. Working out the reasons, the theory, on the other hand, was more difficult. To be sure, his years in Jerusalem had helped him immensely, listening to scribes and Pharisees debate the works of the Law back and forth. It was work, but Paul thanked God for his help in argument.

The Jerusalem church would not have been completely satisfied with his advice to the Corinthian church. They had made it clear in no uncertain terms that Christ followers must make sure that they do not eat meat that has been sacrificed to an idol. They must be very careful not to eat things with the blood still in it or the meat of an animal that was strangled, with the blood left in the meat.

Meanwhile Paul found himself in a nebulous middle ground. He was happy to conform to the Jerusalem expectations when he was only around Jews. And he continued to see himself entirely as an Israelite, indeed, as the truest kind of Israelite. But the unity of the gospel required him to fudge some of the edges of the purity rules so that he could have full table fellowship with Gentile believers. Indeed, most Jews themselves--including the Jerusalem apostles--did not keep the kind of purity standards he knew you had to if you really wanted to keep the Law.

So he was not under the Law, even if he lived under the Law in its key respects, especially around Jews. To the Jew he became a Jew that he might win the Jews. But to the Gentiles, those without the Law, he became lawless, so that he might see them saved from the coming wrath of God too. To be sure, he was still under Christ's Law, the heart of the Law. It was all a fine line he was trying to walk so that he could bring as many people to confess Jesus as Lord as he could.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Peter Enns Question 3: On Nazarenes

Question #3, for the Arminians out there. Continued thanks to Pete for doing this!

For previous questions:
#1 Who are you?
#2 A Good Calvinist?

3. We hear you’ve been attending a Nazarene church for the last 7 years. What would you say are some of the differences in flavor between them and those contexts where people have taken strong exception to your ideas?

My how news travels. Yes, about seven years ago my family and I began attending Immanuel Church of the Nazarene in our hometown. As you might guess, the decision was a complicated matter, especially since I was employed at a Reformed seminary at the time. The most pressing issues were opportunities for our children to be involved in youth activities and an approach to worship and preaching that were more conducive to my family’s growth. We made the move after about a year of contemplation and with the blessing of the board and administration at WTS at the time.

We have found a wonderful believing community there, and it has taken me a while to put my finger on why. As I would say is common among churches of a similar tradition, the center on gravity at ICN is not a detailed, comprehensive theological precision—which is never far under the surface in any conservative Reformed congregation I have ever been a part of—but worship and maturity in Christian character.

This is not to say, as some might be quick to say, that “theology doesn’t matter” or “sounds like they believe in works over grace.” They are thoughtful, grace-centered people. Neither is it to say that Reformed churches are universally rigid in worship or not focused on the building of Christian character beyond theological orthodoxy. I am only saying this has been my experience.

Because guarding theological articulations is not the heart of ICN’s community identity, they are open to curiosity, innovation, and progress in many areas. I bring points of view to this church body that they value, even if they are not something they are used to hearing. This is reflected more broadly, as well. One need only familiarize oneself with the Nazarene Christian College network to see that there is an openness to certain things that one would not readily find in other contexts. For example, Karl Giberson is a biologist at Eastern Nazarene College, and a well-known outspoken and articulate proponent of evolutionary theory (author of Saving Darwin, for example). I do not think his public persona could be as tolerated in other evangelical settings.

I know of numerous people in the Nazarene world who have read Inspiration and Incarnation (I&I) and to a person (of those who have spoken to me) they cannot identify with the criticism I have received from the conservative confessional Reformed world. Of course, this would make them suspect immediately in the eyes of some, but there you have it (and I do not feel I need to defend these brothers and sisters). As a result, I have been welcomed there, am valued for who I am, and am happy to be an active member in the life of this body. It is a blessing from God for us to be there, and everyone in my family has been blessed in ways I certainly did not anticipate seven years ago.

In the broader Wesleyan tradition I have found numerous conversation partners that had been kept secret from me for many years (by myopic gaze, to be sure). Your website, Ken, is a good example. I appreciate the tone and depth of the academic interaction I&I has received here. No, you may not agree on all points with me (your loss :-), and we’ll get to all that in a subsequent post). But we do agree that the conversation about Scripture that I&I seeks to be engaged in is of vital importance. The conversation itself does not need to be defended against those who declare it out of bounds. It is only the arguments, the articulation of the conversation, that has to be defended, and this is as it should be.

What I am finding in the Wesleyan world is a culture where both rigorous thought and openness to change is expected. This is no utopia, but it is without question a most welcome change from the “culture” of very conservative Reformed confessionalism where rigorous thought and maintenance of tradition are prized. Individuals in that tradition differ as much as in any other, and it is not fair to lump them all into the same category. Even churches and schools differ or change over time. But as a “system,” it is my unwavering experience that there is strong suspicion of moving beyond certain well-scripted boundaries, and it is to this system that all within its boarders, regardless of individual variance, will eventually have to give an account.

In my view, this situation stems from its own history, particularly in the US, that has its roots in the modernist/fundamentalist debates. Old Princeton was very active, to say the least, in these debates. It is commonly understood that many in the conservative Reformed orbit today see themselves in strong continuity with those generations of Presbyterian and Reformed folk, and are zealous to honor the battles that were fought and the blood that was shed.

There is a concern—I would even say fear—not to retreat now, after all this time, to concede any ground to the liberals. To say the least, it is very hard to do constructive, innovative biblical scholarship in a tradition that invests such energy in making sure that “Princeton” does not happen again. (I could go on and on here of figures within the WTS orbit who were exceptions to this mindset, e.g., Ned Stonehouse, Ray Dillard, and others, but these figures were exceptions that prove the rule.)

My point here is not to rehearse this history, but simply to point out how this history has created a culture of combat, and generations of “Machen’s warrior children” (as John Frame has so eloquently put it) have arisen, for whom being Reformed (and therefore Christian) means to fight for particular definitions of orthodoxy, wherever it is found. Curiously, those battles are most intense among their own, steeped in a suspicion of enemies from within, which is the narrative of the demise of Princeton Theological Seminary and the need for Westminster Theological Seminary to arise out of the ashes.

Well, as anyone even remotely familiar with this whole issue knows, books have been written on the subject and I cannot get into all that. I have been asked to give my opinion on the differences in “flavor” between these two Christian traditions. My focus here is that, regardless of how and why, there is a world of difference between the two cultures, even if there is sufficient plurality of tone and content among individuals within those cultures. I do not rejoice in this difference, and I wish it were not the case, but it is my experience as well as that of many others still laboring within those well-marked boundaries or of those who have left to go elsewhere.

Nijay's Interview of Joel Green: Part 2

Here is the second half of Nijay Gupta's interview with Joel Green on his recent book, Body, Soul, and Human Life: The Nature of Humanity in the Bible.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pagan Christianity 4: Order of Worship

This is the fourth part in my review of Frank Viola's Pagan Christianity? The previous reviews were:

1. Viola's Preface
2. Barna's Introduction
3. The Church Building

For today I read chapter 3: "The Order of Worship: Sunday Mornings Set in Concrete." As I did last time, I found Viola's final Q & A at the end of the chapter the best place to begin. I don't know but I suspect these final sections are additions to the revised expanded edition. They seem to raise the right questions given Viola's content in the chapters... and his answers don't always ring true. What I mean is, I've found those asking the questions usually to have found the weak points of the chapter.

Final Question: "Are you saying that just because the first-century church had open-participatory meetings, we should too-even though we live in the first century?"

Viola: No...

Schenck: Hogwash. That's exactly what he's saying and it is exactly the tone of what he's said the entire chapter. As usual, I have no problem whatsoever with the kind of community Viola is trying to promote. But he's simply another tradition trying to foist his preferences and personality on everyone else.

Viola has not learned the lesson of the first week of seminary when you take a personality inventory--don't mistake your personality for everyone else's. This is also the first week of worship class--don't mistake your preferred worship style for the way everyone should worship. And, yes, the first week of leadership class--don't mistake your leadership style for the way everyone should lead.

What's good in the chapter?
In the question I mentioned above, Viola goes on to say that this chapter means to raise three key questions:

1. After exploring where the modern Protestant order of worship came from, is it really successful at transforming people and expressing Jesus Christ?

2. Is it possible that open-participatory church meetings are more in line with what God had in mind for His church than the Protestant order of worship?

3. Would it be worth our time to begin exploring new ways to gather and express Christ in our church life together?

Good questions, and have have little doubt but that the vast majority of churches around the United States need to think seriously about these sorts of things. It would be interesting to me to know Viola's church background, what he's reacting to. Yes, I think he's right that most Christians just come and sit like a bump on a log. Yes, this is a recipe for the death of the Church.

I just think there are more ways to do what he's doing than his way--and his trumpet is too loud to the contrary for his, "that's not really what I'm saying" to be credible.

Should all Christians be involved in a small group for accountability and full Christian engagement? Unlike Viola, I hesitate to take a "one size fits all" approach to discipleship and community. But I personally would be happy if every Christian were a part of an "open-participatory group." What he's urging is good. The way he goes about it is skybala.

Yes, I think it may very well be essential for every Christian community to take some time to consider whether they are truly a community and whether their body life does indeed reflect a church rather than a mindless habit. But it's absolutely not necessary to sell their church building and jettison traditions through which God has spoken to them their entire lives, just because it doesn't have to be done that way (and because Viola doesn't like not being able to share his great wisdom if he would deign fit to grace a Lutheran church with his presence).

"But I'm not saying that," saith the Viola. "Bull-hockey," saith the Schenck.

What I don't like...
The attitude, the arrogance. A thousand disclaimers at the end don't undo the clear tone of everything that precedes. If you're not in a house church, you're ignorant and blindly following stupid, deceived-by-paganism, out of touch intellectuals like Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Whitefield, Moody, Pentecostals... well, everyone but me and those few of us that actually know what the New Testament says.

You see, you can't trust the people who've written stuff. The real church, the secret church, are those grass roots people who never actually wrote anything and so, whom we can't exactly prove existed, but the ones who really had the Spirit just weren't in power these last 2000 years, the people who were like me. Let's finish the Reformation and go with my understanding of the New Testament.

If I might just point out a really odd thing about this chapter, his section attempting to assassinate the Methodist tradition features Whitefield, who is hardly the person to pick as the poster child for Methodism (how about John Wesley as a better choice?). By the way, that's the offensive style of the book. He goes tradition by tradition, assassinating each one. He finds anything negative he can think of about each tradition, including not a little grasping at straws. Then he finally gets to his option, blessed be he, which just happens to be the way Paul and the early Christians did it.

He doesn't talk about Wesley because Wesley had small groups and was absolutely about moving from conversion to sanctification. Oops, he can't shoot at that so he just omits it. Whitefield was peripheral to the substance of Methodism.

And he assassinates Moody for being a pragmatist. Funny, this description of Moody reminds me a little of something Paul said: "I am all things to all people so that I might by all means save some."

Looking at the New Testament
All the things I've said thus far continue to apply. We remember, for example, that 1 Corinthians was written to ancient Corinthian Christians and the issues of that church. Does 1 Corinthians address a church of 300? No. Would Paul have given the instructions of 1 Corinthians 14 to a church of 300? We have no way of knowing--and even if we could guess, it didn't make it into Scripture and so wouldn't be authoritative! Paul is not authoritative. The Spirit-led appropriation in the church of texts God inspired through Paul is.

Would Paul tell a church of 300 to split up into smaller groups? We don't know--and even if we did it wouldn't be authoritative because it didn't make it into Scripture!

We have to make a distinction between the descriptions of the early church and the prescriptions of the early church. We have few prescriptions on how to worship in the New Testament. "Don't quench the Spirit." Ok, there's one, written to the Thessalonians.

On the other hand, Paul tries to lasso the "Spirit" a bit with the Corinthians, reel their wild and crazy random tongues speaking. For tongues, it's 2 or at the most 3, one at a time, and only with interpretation. The same goes for prophecy. In other words, he imposes order on the free for all happening there. By 1 Timothy and Titus, significant structure in leadership is beginning to take place to ensure proper teaching. Paul himself won't be around to do it.

You have to search for side-comments most of the time even to begin to build a case for how the early churches structured worship or structured leadership. There's hardly a clear voice in the New Testament on these issues. So it is dubious in the extreme, not only to presume this worship style was universal and monolithic--that you have it figured out. It is even more dubious to take such a hypothetical reconstructed description as prescriptive.

Viola's argument against any connection between Christian worship and synagogue worship is absolutely ridiculous. We should expect there to be significant overlap. For example, remember, James, Peter, and John did not compel Titus to be circumcised. That seems to imply that they thought it was preferable for him to be circumcised. Let that sink in a little, the apostle Peter and James the leader of the Jerusalem church thought it preferable for a Gentile convert to convert to Judaism.

Paul himself likely lost the debate at Antioch over table fellowship between Jews and Gentiles. He tells us when people admit they were wrong. Complete silence here. Paul likely served on the periphery of the early church for much of his mission. He was right, because his side ended up in Scripture. But don't pretend for one second that the worship or ideology of the early church was monolithic.

The burden of proof is squarely on the shoulders of anyone who would argue for significant discontinuity between Jewish worship and early Christian worship. The earliest Gentile converts were, what, God-fearers who had been worshipping in the synagogue. It is ludicrous to think that Jesus and Paul went to the synagogues because it was part of their mission, all the while seriously objecting to the idea of a synagogue itself because of its institutional nature.

There simply aren't broadly prescriptive passages in the New Testament on the form worship must take. It is massively dubious to think that all churches did it the same way descriptively. Even if they did, even if Paul had some thoughts Viola can read--they didn't make it into Scripture in a universally prescriptive form.

We know the elements of worship. The New Testament has no demand on how we package them. I'm okay with Viola's way and, yes, the church as a whole would probably do well to take on his core suggestions. But all the same, those of us in my worship venue are going to say the Apostle's Creed, take communion, and say some set prayers this Sunday the way we do every Sunday... and I suspect God will be with us every bit as much as whatever small group Viola is a part of.