Monday, March 30, 2009

The New Perspective and the Wesleyan Tradition

If I were to write a chapter or essay on the question, "The New Perspective and the Wesleyan Tradition," it became clear to me this weekend how I think I would structure it. Here is the outline:

1. What is the "new" perspective?
  • First, at this point of the game, calling the trends of this essay "the new perspective" is probably unhelpful. All that is meant by the term is 1) the re-appraisal of the nature of Judaism that took place in the late twentieth century in the light of new discoveries and, especially, some harsh political mirrors held up to the West, and 2) the re-appraisal of exactly what Paul was saying in this light.
  • Hardly anyone--not even those high level scholars who resist these trends--has been unaffected. Even those who are more "old perspective" have changed. The only ones who have not changed are those who do not really read Paul with a view to what he original meant at all, but almost entirely read him through traditional glasses (e.g., John Piper, who for this reason does not completely count as a scholar of the original meaning).
2. Krister Stendahl, Paul, and Introspective Consciences
  • Stendahl's (a Lutheran) main contribution was to show the falseness of the Lutheran model of Paul as so vexed with his guilty conscience that he finally turned to justification by faith alone, understood as having nothing to do with action at all. Rather, Paul had a "robust conscience" both before and after he believed on Christ. His turning to Christ was more of a call to the Gentiles than a conversion and in any case was not in his mind a conversion from one religion to another.
  • Romans 7 thus was not Paul's current struggle with sin, an acknowledgement made now even by the most prominent original meaning scholars in the Calvinist tradition (e.g., Moo).
  • The end result is that Paul had a much greater emphasis on a blameless life than the primary representatives of Protestantism had allowed.
3. E. P. Sanders, Judaism, and Staying In
  • If Stendahl and others opened the door, Sanders gave critical mass to the recognition that Judaism almost always had acknowledged the primacy of God's grace over Jews being able to earn God's favor. The Jews did not understand keeping the Law to get them in but to be the appropriate response to God's grace and essential for staying in the covenant.
  • This schema fits well with both Calvinist and Arminian understandings of post-justification righteousness. The Spirit empowers us to keep the righteous requirements of the Law after we have been justified by faith. However, it is the Arminian tradition that correctly understands the importance of blamelessness for staying in after justification by faith.
4. James D. G. Dunn, Paul, and Works of Law
  • Dunn correctly has recognized that "works of Law" in Paul are not best understood as bald "works" in general. Most of the time, the phrase "works of Law" has overtones of the Jewish particulars of the Law rather than law-keeping in some general sense. This recognition significantly diminishes the Protestant polarization of faith and works.
  • Dunn also has shown the lack of focus in readings of Paul that focus on some supposed absolute moral perfection being God's expectation. This is a reading of a verses like Galatians 3:10 or 5:3 that puts an artificial emphasis on "all" or "whole," as if Paul is painting a picture of God's character in which he must have justice for every last drop of sin. But God's justice is not the centerpiece or fountain of Paul's theology, or of the theology of any part of the New Testament. God's righteousness has more to do in Paul with God's proactive character in saving His people and the world, which fits very well with Wesleyan theology.
5. N. T. Wright and (Final) Justification
  • Wright's primarily contribution, in terms of Wesleyan-Arminian theology, is his recognition of the importance of works in final justification, chiefly in passages like Romans 2:5-10; 14:10-12; and 2 Corinthians 5:10. Wright also correctly sees the Spirit as establishing in reality what God does on the basis of faith when one first believes on Christ. The missing piece for Wright is the importance of blamelessness for "staying in."
  • Wright follows in the train of the majority who now see Romans 1:16 as a reference to God's righteousness rather than some righteousness from God, which again fits with a greater emphasis on love as the driving characteristic of God in salvation, not a drive to work around His justice.

6. Conclusion

  • These developments thus support love (righteousness) as the central character of God in relation to salvation, not God's justice.
  • They point out the importance of literal righteousness as a product of the Spirit, essential for final justification, that faith and works are not contradictory.
  • They recognize that Romans 7 is in fact exactly the opposite of the situation of the believer. It is exactly the problem that the Spirit solves for the believer.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Paul Novel: Galatians 4

... Paul, Barnabas, and Titus returned to Antioch with a sense of triumph. Neither James nor Peter had forced Titus to be circumcised, and by their allowance, they had legitimized Paul's mission and message. Peter, not long thereafter, traveled to Antioch, realizing that the city was quickly becoming a center of the Way as influential as Jerusalem. He honestly rejoiced to see the thriving community of faith, with numerous assemblies meeting all over the city on the Lord's Day.

Paul was very hopeful for Peter's complete support at first. Paul made sure that all the Gentile assemblies invite Peter to their fellowships on the Lord's Day. He was initially somewhat reluctant, given that these were Gentile homes, often with Paul being the only other Jew. But he consented, not only because Paul was persuasive, but because he genuinely wanted to see them grow in faith.

The second or third Sunday Peter met in a Gentile assembly, he began to loosen up. The biggest issue was when he met with them to eat the Lord's meal. If he met in the morning for prayer, there was awkwardness of being in a Gentile home. But when he ate the love feast with them, there was the issue of impurity through the meal.

In general, Peter had not spent too much time in his life worrying about such things. He was a fisherman from Galilee, not a member of some Pharisee dining club or an Essene in a commune on the shores of the Dead Sea. Jesus had hardly worried about such things either, taking them into the homes of toll collectors and occasionally eating in the presence of prostitutes.

But not so with James. Jesus' free wheeling fellowship was one of the reasons he had resisted his ministry while he was on earth. And now he was conscious of a large group of believers in Jerusalem who were very sensitive to these sorts of issues. So when the rumors of Peter's incautious dining with Gentiles got back to Jerusalem, James immediately sent an urgent message back to him. One of those who returned with the messengers was none other than John Mark.

The thrust of the message was that Peter had to set the tone for Jewish believers because he was the apostle, the one who had seen the Lord. Maybe Gentiles could escape God's wrath by their confession of Jesus as Lord, repentance for their sins, and baptism in the name of Jesus' faithful death. But Jewish believers were still a part of the covenant God had made with Israel. God's expectation that they would keep the commandments was as firm as ever. Jesus had not changed that. Many believers in Jerusalem might be lost to the Way if they were to find that Peter was being so careless about his purity.

Here was his suggestion. If the Gentile believers would only adopt a few simple practices, then Jew and Gentile would be able to continue to eat together. For example, if they would make sure that the meat they served had not been sacrificed at a nearby temple, that was very important, given how much of the meat in the marketplace was defiled. Then if they would make sure that the animal was drained of blood, not strangled, then no blood would be among the meat.

Finally, Gentiles were notorious for their sexual immorality. If they would keep themselves pure in this way, and be careful about the way they acquired and prepared any meat for the Lord's meal, then it would be possible for Jew and Gentile to eat together. Of course in practice it would not be so simple. Peter would need to make sure not only that everyone present for the meal was clean, but that every member of the household in general was.

Peter tried to put on as good a face as he could, but frankly, it was embarrassing the whole way around. He had planned the coming Sunday to meet in one of the Gentile house churches. He tried to bow out as tactfully as possible at the last minute. When Paul heard of it, knowing that certain men had come that week from James, he suspected that something was wrong.

So he went to Peter, who had not planned to announce the new decisions quite so soon. But Paul's doggedness forced the issue, and all the elders of the city were called together the next evening. The church rejoiced that the Gentiles had received the good news of the Messiah and in their salvation. But Israel was the people of God, and God had given Israel the Law, in which he specified rules of purity and impurity. So the Jews could not eat with the Gentile believers unless they were willing to make their homes clean according to the Levitical laws.

Paul was outraged. He had suspected something was up, but requiring the Gentile believers to make their homes kosher? The absurdity of it all. He couldn't contain himself--didn't think God wanted him to.

"So you--you, Peter--are going to make the Gentiles keep the rules of kashrut? What a joke! What hypocrisy! You, keep the Law? You, who already live like a Gentile are going to force the Gentiles to live like a Jew?

"I've kept the Law. I've kept the Law like no one in this room has ever kept the Law. On my most impure day I kept the Law better than James on his most pure day. I've kept it better than anyone in the entire Jerusalem community ever has. But what I needed was the death of Christ. My attention to the minute works of the Law did not bring me God's favor.

"This is insincere. Worse, it is of the Satan. We all stand or fall before God on the basis of Christ's faithfulness and our trust in it, whether Jew or Gentile. To turn to anything else after the Christ has died for us, is to spit on his grace."

It was a tense moment. Barnabas finally tried to make peace. Paul's bluntness had not earned him any sympathy. If anything it had turned some who would have been sympathetic to the other side.

"Brother Paul," Barnabas said. "It seems little to ask for our Gentile brothers to take a little extra caution in preparing their meals. And even you have not approved of the sexual immorality we have encountered on our mission. No one expects you to change the way you fellowship with the Gentile believers. But this feels right to me and especially right for Peter, since he is as you have said yourself, the apostle to the Jews" ...

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Tom Wright: Justification The End

And with this post we finally at long last finish our review 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. I can truly understand I understand where he's coming from much better now.

The previous posts were:

Chapter 1: What's it all about and why does it matter
Chapter 2: Rules of engagement
Chapter 3: First Century Judaism
Chapter 4: Justification: Definitions and Puzzles
Chapter 5: Exegesis of Galatians
Chapter 6: Interlude: Philippians, Corinthians, Ephesians
Chapter 7.1 Romans 1:16-17
Chapter 7.2 Romans 1:18-2:16
Chapter 7.3 Romans 2:17-3:20
Chapter 7.4 Romans 3:21-26 7.5
Chapter 7:5-6 Romans 3:27-31 and chapter 4

And now, the rest.

Chapter 7.7: Romans 5-8
What is the connection between justification by faith at the beginning and justification at the end with works taken into account? "the people who are already justified by faith are the people who will live the sort of life I described earlier on, those who will have the present verdict confirmed in the future" (198). In short, "Chapters 5-8 is, in fact, a single great argument for assurrance, the Christian doctrine that 'those whom God justified, them he also glorified' (8.30). In other words, that the verdict already announced is indeed a true anticipation of the verdict yet to be announced"

I personally don't think the connection is quite so neat, but this is a brilliant escape from the potential conundrum of the tension between (initial) justification by faith and (final) judgment/justification by works.

We also find this: "the notion of 'being in Christ' which Paul develops in these chapters is rooted in, and fully dovetails with, the doctrine of justification. It is not the case, in other words, that one has to choose between 'justification by faith' and 'being in Christ' as the 'centre' of Paul's thought" (201).

I'm pretty dubious about propositional centers anyway. Tell me what part of Paul's theology we're talking about and who he's talking to and I'll tell you what I think the focus is.

This was an interesting quote to me, all in italics in the book: "It is therefore a straightforward category mistake, however venerable within some Reformed traditions including part of my own, to suppose that Jesus 'obeyed the law' and so obtained 'righteousness' which could be reckoned to those who believe in him" (205). I suspect Wright is right.

Throughout this section Wright rightly emphasizes the importance of the Holy Spirit in making what is done legally in justification by faith actual righteousness in works through the power. I've omitted some of the more idiosyncratic Wright stuff with which we are all now very well acquainted.

Chapter 7.8: Romans 9-11
He focuses first on 9:30-10:13. "The subject of this passage is God's righteousness, the righteousness of God's people, their salvation and how it might be attained, and above all the covenant" (212).

"I have no hesitation in saying that dikaiosyne in 9.30 and 9.31 must be understood in terms of membership within the covenant" (214). The problem is that I don't see the word covenant here. Yes, it clearly has implications for who God's people end up being. Maybe I'm dense. I just don't see it.

"Israel's mistake, here as elsewhere, was to imagine that the purpose of God was not the single-purpose-through-Israel-for-the-world but a single-purpose-for-Israel-apart-from-the-world" (215). "[T]he plan always was the single plan through Israel in the person of the Messiah alone, for the world" (216). "When people believe the gospel of Jesus and his resurrection, and confess him as Lord, they are in fact doing what the Torah wanted all along, and are therefore displaying the necessary marks of covenant renewal" (217).

I don't know what to say. I guess I still come closest to Sanders within the triad.

"What shall we say to these things? If Paul is for us, who can be against us?" (221). :-)

"Any attempt to give an account of a doctrine which screens out the call of Israel, the gift of the spirit, and/or the redemption of all creation is doomed to be less than fully biblical" (222).

quod faciendum eram feci. finis

Friday, March 27, 2009

Not Likely Luke by Easter 4: Luke 4

I hereby give notice 1) that I read Luke 4 today and 2) I don't plan to post any more... that way maybe I'll finish or maybe I won't... :-)

Tom Wright: Justification 7.5-7.6

This is the fifth part of my review of the seventh 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
Chapter 4: Justification: Definitions and Puzzles
Chapter 5: Exegesis of Galatians
Chapter 6: Interlude: Philippians, Corinthians, Ephesians
Chapter 7.1 Romans 1:16-17
Chapter 7.2 Romans 1:18-2:16
Chapter 7.3 Romans 2:17-3:20
Chapter 7.4 Romans 3:21-26

7.5 Romans 3:27-31 (pp.185-90)
The boast that there is no room for, for Wright, is the boast of Israel of superiority because of having the Law. I think I agree, although not exactly in all of Wright's particulars. I think Wright would agree that it is a boasting of a Jew having an advantage in relation to justification because of being a Jew, when they do not have such an advantage.

One place where I disagree with Wright is his penchant always to translate nomos as Torah. To me Paul slips in and out of the various nuances of the word, an article I've never gotten around to writing, woah is me.

Wright correctly scraps the medieval concept of imputed righteousness, where the "imputer" transfers "his" own righteousness to the other. Nothing like that in this law court scenario.

7.6 Romans 4 (190-97)
Here we find again Wright's strong assertion that Abraham is not simply an example of someone who is justified by faith but "the foundation of the single-plan-through-Israel-for-the-world" (190). I reread the chapter because the promise is through Abraham in Galatians and I assume Paul has not changed his mind. But after rereading Romans 4, I still think Paul here is using Abraham more as a prototype of faith than as "the single plan for the world," and I don't see the "through Israel" part here at all.

Wright agrees with Hays that the opening verse has been mistranslated. Most versions say something like, "What therefore will we say Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, to have found [regarding justification]?" Hays has argued in an article (now reprinted in The Conversion of the Imagination) that in keeping with Paul's other "What then" statements it should be translated something like, "What then will we say? Have we found Abraham to be our forefather according to flesh?" You'll remember that there was no punctuation in the original Greek, so we have to make these sorts of decisions as interpreters.

I feel the argument. My main objections are 1) the "to have found" is an infinitive and so flows most naturally in connection with a main verb like "will we say" and 2) I don't think the Greek fathers took the verse this way--and they were much better at Greek grammar than us.

Wright summarizes Romans 4: "The whole chapter, then, is not about 'how Abraham got justified by faith' so much as 'God's faithfulness to his promises to Abraham, giving him a worldwide family whose badge is the same faith that Abraham himself had' (195). OK, I reread the chapter again and I still disagree with Wright's emphasis. Yes, Abraham is the father of both Jew and Gentile who are justified by faith, but the emphasis of the chapter is on how to be justified, not on God keeping his promises to Abraham. The location of promise language in the chapter is not in the past with the story of Abraham but in the accomplishment of justification in the present.

I still don't get the whole "faith as badge of covenant membership" thing.

To end today on a good note, Wright was helpful to me in the connection between resurrection and justification that Paul makes at the end of the chapter. "[I]f the cross had dealt with sin it would also have dealt with death" (196), Wright says, referring to 1 Corinthians 15's argument. Jesus' resurrection thus proves that sins have been dealt with on the cross and thus, that justification can take place.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Calvin Goof of the Day 3-26-09

In Romans 7, "he is discussing the Christian struggle (more briefly touched in Galatians [ch. 5:17]), which believers constantly feel in themselves in the conflict between flesh and spirit. But the Spirit comes, not from nature, but from regeneration. Moreover, it is clear that the apostle is speaking of these regenerated, because when he had said that no good dwelt in him, he adds the explanation that he is referring to his flesh [Rom. 7:18].

"Accordingly, he declares that it is not he who does evil, but sin dwelling in him. [Rom. 7:20.] What does he mean by this correction: "In me, that is, in my flesh" [Rom. 7:18]? It is as if he were speaking in this way: "Good does not dwell in me of myself, for nothing good is to be found in my flesh." Hence follows that form of an excuse: "I myself do not do evil, but sin that dwells in me" [Rom. 7:20]. This excuse applies only to the regenerate who tend toward good with the chief part of their soul.

"Now the conclusion appended clearly explains this whole matter: "For I delight in the law . . . according to the inner man, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind" [Rom. 7:22-23]. Who would have such strife in himself but a man who, regenerated by the Spirit of God, bears the remains of his flesh about with him?"

Oops. I guess Calvin isn't inspired. No wonder so many fundamentalist Calvinists are up in arms about the "new" perspective. It's hard to kick against the pricks.

Calvin Quote for Day 3-26-09

Man, I'm way behind on Calvin reading...

"... the greatest geniuses are blinder than moles! Certainly I do not deny that one can read competent and apt statements about God here and there in the philosophers, but these always show a certain giddy imagination."

Tom Wright: Justification 7.4

This is the fourth dying gasp of my review of the seventh 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
Chapter 4: Justification: Definitions and Puzzles
Chapter 5: Exegesis of Galatians
Chapter 6: Interlude: Philippians, Corinthians, Ephesians
Chapter 7.1 Romans 1:16-17
Chapter 7.2 Romans 1:18-2:16
Chapter 7.3 Romans 2:17-3:20

And now 3:21-26 (pp.176-85). One day I'll have the mental strength just to plow through the rest. I finished the book Sunday on a plane, but I'm just sooo tired mentally.

Now righteousness of God has been revealed... "'God's righteousness', in the light of 2.17-3.8, must mean, and can only mean, God's faithfulness to his single plan, the plan through which he will deal with the problem of human sin and put the whole world to right at last" (176). Sounds familiar. I still think he reads too much meaning into the phrase, although I certainly agree more with him than Piper.

I did enjoy his rag on the NIV, again! "... fudging the evidence by translating dikaiosyne in verses 25 an 26 as 'justice', not noticing what a mess they are thereby making of the inner coherence of the paragraph" (177).

By the way, Steve Lennox is doing a review on the ESV Study Bible. I guess it has lots of bells and whistles... and of course is endorsed by several key wrong people for Wesleyans--John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Albert Mohler. I won't speak ill of all the names who have endorsed it, but Wesleyans should be aware that the individuals I just named hold views fundamentally incompatible with the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition (there is good in them, but you should treat anything you read from them as a hostile witness). The translation itself is a good translation, although I do not recommend it to Wesleyans (I'm endorsing the NLT and TNIV as our replacements for the NIV--I'll wait to see some of the other new ones). But I explicitly oppose the use of the ESV Study Bible by Wesleyans.

Now back to Wright: "faithfulness of Jesus Christ..."

"It was not so much that 'God needed a sinless victim', though in sacrificial terms that is no doubt true as well, as that 'God needed a faithful Israelite' (178). I agree with the first part, just don't see the second part.

I very much am sympathetic to his read of "the one from the faith of Jesus." Wright says it "looks as though it is a telescoping together of both halves of 3:22, 'through the faithfulness of Jesus for the benefit of all who have faith'" (179). Yes!

That's about as much of this section I feel like wading through today...

Not Likely Luke by Easter 3: Luke 3

Thankfully we're out of "L" and into Mark and Q land... where the chapters are shorter... and of course added centuries later (the chapter divisions, that is).

3:7 Brood of vipers...
This is "Q" material in the sense that it is common to Matthew and Luke and not in Mark. Interesting that Matthew adds that the people Jesus is speaking to are Pharisees and Sadducees. Luke says nothing of the sort. So, assuming a common source or that one of the two used the other, who added Pharisees or who took away?

Matthew is extra down on the Pharisees so it makes sense to say that he added it. But would Luke have deleted it? I can't say that I have an opinion at this time, although I suppose if we go with the standard idea that Luke is usually the more accurate picture of Q, then we would conclude Matthew adds that they were Pharisees.

3:8 Don't say, "We have Abraham as a father."
Reminds me of some of Paul's debates about who the seed of Abraham is...

3:10-14 What should we do?
This whole section is unique to Luke and fits with his general emphasis on social justice. No one can listen to Luke-Acts and not conclude that social justice is a major Christian concern.

3:21 praying...
Luke's gospel is the only one to mention that Jesus was praying when the Spirit descended on him, yet another characteristic theme of Luke-Acts.

3:22 "You are my beloved Son..."
Luke follows Mark's wording here, rather than Matthew's, where God speaks to everyone, "This is my beloved..."

3:38 "... of God"
I can't remember Luke's theology of the phrase "Son of God." This is something to track. The way he puts it in the genealogy, we are all sons of God, which of course we are, but Luke implies Jesus as son of God in the genealogy in this generic way.

Colloquium Day at IWU: Women in Ministry

Today was our semesterly colloquium. This semester was on women in ministry. If I can get Kristina LaCelle-Peterson and Russ Gunsalus' video, I'll post it here later.

Kristina gave a great sweep of the biblical information, largely by presenting the arguments of nineteenth century holiness writers. I've recommended her book here before:

Then Russ gave the response which was really the punch, since he thought she wasn't combative enough :-) His five points:

1. Think about things as people issues, not gender issues.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is not a "black" holiday. It is a day for all people to celebrate America's core value of the equality of all people. The problem is not with men who are controlling or women who are this or that. The problem is with people who have certain negative traits.

2. Watch your mouth.
If you wouldn't feel comfortable replacing the word "women" with "Asians," "blacks," etc., then don't say it of women or men either. The biggest problem with stereotypes is that they tend to "essentialize" a characteristic that is not usually true of all people in a certain category. It is simply not the case that all women are more nurturing than all men or that all men are better leaders than all women.

If the Bible really taught this, then we simply could not avoid the conclusion that the Bible was flat wrong. That should be pretty motivating to conclude that the Bible really doesn't teach that. By the way, the main points are Russ's, but I'm doing some significant expansion of illustration and comment here, which constitutes my Amen.

3. Tie goes to equality.
Russ made the argument that if the evidence seemed roughly balanced to you for or against women in ministry, give the tie to egalitarianism. If this seems a little vague, let me give his answer to a follow up question during the later Q & A.

Which would be the worse side to fail on--let's say this hermeneutic is used by practicing homosexuals (which I should clarify Kristina showed clear distinctions in the two issues). What is the fall out, he posed? We give justification, as he put it, to 4% of the population, perhaps most of whom are not interested in evangelical Christianity. What is the potential fall out on the side of the complementarian hermeneutic? The practice of slavery that put thousands of people under constant torture, rape, and sometimes murder.

Which potential hermeneutical consequence seems less Christian--the complementarian hermeneutic?

4. Quit ignoring people.
I liked the way he put this. Everyone yawns when you mention inclusiveness or diversity. Putting it this way gets the point across. If you're ignoring a person because of their race, gender, etc, then you're not being Christian in relation to them.

5. Listen to God.
Russ's conviction that a person who truly seeks God's will on this matter will end up an egalitarian came through loud and clear. He's not worried about what God will tell you. Pray about it and be willing to listen to His answer...

Pagan Christianity 11: Christian Education

Only one chapter from Frank Viola's Pagan Christianity today. I've lost my will. Every post is an effort.

The previous posts were:

1. Viola's Preface
2. Barna's Introduction
3. The Church Building
4. The Order of Worship
5. The Sermon
6. The Pastor
7. Sunday Go to Meeting Clothes
8. Music in the Church
9. Chapters 8 and 9: Tithing/Paying Ministers (8) and the Sacraments (9)

And now chapter 10: "Christian Education: Swelling the Cranium."

There's little doubt that Viola relays a common sentiment that much in ministerial training seems out of focus. We have launched an MDIV program here at IWU for the Fall (we've officially accepted our first two students) and, Lord willing, will officially call it a seminary in less than two weeks. We have launched it recognizing some of the things that Viola mentions in this chapter.

So Viola thinks training should be "hands on" rather than merely intellectual (200). He critiques the notion that "the teaching of knowledge is the teaching of virtue" (215). "Contemporary theological learning is essentially cerebral" and "In the process, our theology rarely gets below the neck" (216).

OK, there's the good in the chapter. But as I've read through this book, here is my fundamental critique. It is not simply that Viola consistently throws the baby out with the bath water. Of course I completely think he does. My critique is that he could have actually done something edifying with this book. At least to some extent, he has correctly identified the superficialism and myopic traditionalism that no doubt pervades and predominates in the church today.

But instead of urging authenticity and genuine spirituality in each tradition, he has insisted that we burn all the institutional churches down and start a house church. For this reason, his book on the whole is not helpful for God's people. It will only appeal to the angry (and feed their angry) and confuse the innocent.

His view of seminaries is stereotypical and unbalanced. Take this statement: "contemporary ministerial training can be described by the religious talk of Job's miserable comforters: rational, objective, and abstract. Very little practical, experiential, or spiritual" (201). But his reaction is not, let's fix Christian education, our approach at IWU. His reaction is, let's burn down all the Christian seminaries, universities, and Bible colleges.

"[C]ontemporary theology is a blending of Christian thought and pagan philosophy" (208). And Viola's thought is a blending of Christian thought and the thinking of a particular American Christian subculture, mixed with some of the ancient cultural forms in which the New Testament message was incarnated. Again, he takes biblical descriptions and supposed descriptions based on him filling in gaps in our knowledge, and he makes them pre-scriptions for a quite different place and time. This is sheer madness.

I'll let the church historians and theologians rip his villianization of Aquinas and his wild connections between things in history.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tom Wright: Justification 7.3

This is the third dying gasp of my review of the seventh 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
Chapter 4: Justification: Definitions and Puzzles
Chapter 5: Exegesis of Galatians
Chapter 6: Interlude: Philippians, Corinthians, Ephesians
Chapter 7.1 Romans 1:16-17
Chapter 7.2 Romans 1:18-3:20

And now Romans 2:17-3:21 (169-76). I messed up on the last post--it was only through 2:16. In the last part of chapter 2--"you call yourself a Jew"--Wright thinks Paul is addressing his own former self (169). Why not?

In sum, for Wright, Israel was meant to be God's light to the world, but Israel has turned inward, hoarded gifts God intended it to bring to the world. Israel has not only not saved the world. It hasn't saved itself.

I just don't see it. I reread this section of Romans and I just don't see it.

Wright: "Paul is not primarily talking here about the salvation of 'the Jew'. He is talking about the salvation to come through 'the Jew'" (169).

Schenck: "Either I'm blind or Wright's reading goes way beyond anything Romans explicitly says here."

Not Likely Luke by Easter 2: Luke 2

Luke 2 today, verses that grabbed me this time around.

2:10 I am announcing good news [that is] great joy to all the people.
Usually translated, "to all people." I think the passage more likely has Israel in mind. "To all the people" is a better translation.

2:23 Just as it is written in the Law of the Lord...
Notice that the author of Acts can refer to the Law as the Law of the Lord. Far more continuity in Luke-Acts on the Law than in Paul. Hard for me to imagine Paul referring to the Law this way.

2:24 ... and to give sacrifice according to what is spoken in the Law of the Lord.
No sense that the temple is on its way out, no sense that believers will soon stop sacrificing. Luke-Acts knows nothing of the end of the temple, with the possible exception of Acts 7, which stands out like a foreign body in the theology of Luke-Acts.

2:25-26 Symeon was ... a righteous and devout man awaiting the comforting of Israel... and it is revealed to him... not to see death before he should see the Christ of the Lord.
Again, no "all have sinned," he's really a dirty rotten scoundrel here--and he's pre-Christ's sacrifice. Also, no sense that Christ replaces Israel. The author has given us no reason to think he is not referring here to ethnic Israel and a literal, concrete political restoration at some point.

Notice that as in 2:23 and 24, the Lord refers to God rather than to Jesus.

2:32 ... a light for the revelation of Gentiles and a glory of your people Israel.
Israel is God's people here, not the Gentiles, although the Gentiles will get the revelation through Jesus, Messiah.

2:35 ... and a sword will go through your own soul, [Mary]
There is surely something behind this verse, something "Luke" and Theophilus know but it is only alluded to here. Is it Mary's resistance to his ministry while he was alive? Then her grievance to come to believe after his death. It seems to imply that Luke knows a tradition about Mary of some sort.

2:41 yearly to Jerusalem...
All the figures in these first two Lukan chapters (where he is not clearly dependent on sources) are portrayed as deeply Law observant Jews.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Not Likely Luke by Easter 1: Luke 1

Under the headings of "are you crazy" and "failures in the making," I read Luke 1 in Greek today. Chuck Davis had the idea of a chapter a day starting Friday, a Facebook group called Spring into Luke.

I was looking for interesting things (to me) in chapter 1 and here's what I noticed:

1:6 Zechariah and Elizabeth were blameless.
The New Testament knows nothing of "I'm not perfect, just forgiven." For one thing, blamelessness did not mean absolute moral perfection of the sort we now seem to picture. Good grief, what were the sacrifices for then. It did mean that, both for the OT and NT, there was a sense that a person could keep the Law to God's expectations, which entailed the possibility for repentance and sacrifice if necessary.

1:30 Gabriel tells Mary that she has found grace.
The word is usually translated favor, and rightly so. However, it points to an inadequacy in the way grace is usually conceptualized. We so often speak of grace as getting off the hook when we deserve to be skewered. But here, grace is not in the face of Mary's explicit undeserving. It is an extra, an above and beyond. She has done nothing to unsuit her for this grace, even though she has done nothing to merit it either. Grace is simply a gift rather than something that one has earned or paid for.

1:55 to Abraham and his seed forever...
Hmmm. Sounds like something Paul argued over... and Tom Wright... although I think Luke is thinking of ethnic Israel here.

1:59 they circumcised the child [John the Baptist]
A Christian writing seems here to endorse Jews circumcising their children, certainly before Christ, but not a word denies it afterword, nor does Acts or Paul.

1:68 redemption for God's people
Luke very much sees the sequence of John-Jesus as the redemption of Israel. You will not find any ultimate replacement theology in Luke, even if we are currently in his paradigm in the "times of the Gentiles." This redemption was meant to be political (1:71). If I were to go all the way through Acts, I would argue that the turning from the Jews in Acts 28 is not permanent in Luke's mind, but that Luke is giving us an implicit explanation for the destruction of Jerusalem.

Tom Wright: Justification 7.2

This is the second dying gasp of my review of the seventh 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
Chapter 4: Justification: Definitions and Puzzles
Chapter 5: Exegesis of Galatians
Chapter 6: Interlude: Philippians, Corinthians, Ephesians
Chapter 7.1 Romans 1:16-17

Now the second gasp of chapter 7, on 1:18-3:20 (pp. 158-68).

Romans 2 features significantly in Wright's understanding of Paul and, despite the diversity of those claiming new perspectives, Romans 2 is a new perspective moment for him. He has mostly convinced me of his reading here, so amid many questions I have about his ubernarratives.

It seems to me there are three prominent readings of the verses in question in Romans 2. These are the verses that pose the question of Gentiles who by nature do not have the Law, but nevertheless do the righteous requirements of the Law, demonstrating the Law written on their hearts (e.g., 2:14-15).

The first is that there are Gentiles out there who are true to the little light they have who will be saved. These are the Socrates types, the "anonymous Christians" of Karl Rahner, etc. Unfortunately, despite the venerable tradition of reading the verses in this way (maybe they're right theologically), it does not at all seem likely that Paul had anything of this sort in mind. Wright doesn't even mention the possibility.

The more traditional Protestant interpretation is to see this verse as a hypothetical. Paul is leading his audience to the conclusion that all have sinned and thus that no one actually fits in this category. But, says Paul, if there were such a Gentile, they would be just as acceptable as any Jew who kept the Law. I used to hold this position.

But alas, Wright has convinced me of his interpretation, and I consider it--at least insofar as I agree with Wright--a boon for Wesleyan-Arminians. Although Romans 3 is headed to "all have sinned," Wright suggests that "This, in fact, is one of the few cases where a failure in exegesis is caused by too much attention to the overall scope of a passage, and not enough to the small details and sub-sections" (158).

For Wright, "the description in 2.26-29 of those who 'keep the commandments of the law' even though they are uncircumcised (2.26), who actually 'fulfil the law' (2.27), are Christian Gentiles, even though Paul has not yet developed that category" (166). I consider this interpretation by far to be the most likely one, given the phrase "written on their hearts."

Thus the other "new perspective" Wright takes in this chapter, which in fact I agree is none other than reading Paul in his Jewish context is the fact that "There is, then, for Paul, a final judgment, and it will be 'according to works'" (168). "The verdict of the last day will truly reflect what people have actually done" (167). Wright rightly finds the later debates about monergism (simply God's work in people) versus synergism (cooperation between God and human will) anachronistic. For Wright, it is both at the same time. "from one point of view the spirit is at work, producing these fruits... and from another point of view the person concerned is making the free choices" (167).

Here is Wright in a nutshell:

"(a) the judgment of which Paul speaks in Romans 2.1-16 is of course the future judgment, that which will take place on the last day. When, on that day, God issues through the Messiah the positive verdict spoken of in 2.7, 10, and 13, it corresponds to the present verdict which, in 3.21-31 is issued simply and solely on the basis of faith.

"(b) How do these two verdicts correspond? The answer has to do with the spirit. When Paul returns triumphantly to the future verdict in chapter 8 ('there is now no condemnation for those who are in the Messiah, Jesus'), he at once explains this with a long discourse about the work of the spirit (8.2-27). What Paul says about Christians could be said about the doctrine of justification itself: if you don't have the spirit, you're not on the map (8.9)" (165).

I agree with this analysis wholeheartedly and put in my pile of "a great day for Wesleyan theology" things. However, there may be one very significant difference between my analysis and Wright's, which is the "hair's breadth" between Wesley and Calvin. For Wright there is an inevitable correlation between the verdict that is given by faith at the beginning and the verdict that is vindicated by works at the end. To me this is to systematize Paul in a way he does not.

Given his rhetoric, it is possible for him to speak of someone as "justified by faith" at one point and yet for them not to win the prize or attain to the resurrection of the dead, thus not being justified by works at the judgment. Being true to Paul's rhetoric will require us to pull these two apart, while Wright's tidy system will no doubt hold them together, once again confirming that Wright's Anglican theology, as he actually implies at one point (205), is half Calvinist.

Here endeth the second gasp...

Monday, March 23, 2009

Tom Wright: Justification 7.1

This is the first part of my review of the seventh 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. I'm sorry to say that I grow weary, so I will give you some gasps and then collapse on the finish line.

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
Chapter 4: Justification: Definitions and Puzzles
Chapter 5: Exegesis of Galatians
Chapter 6: Interlude: Philippians, Corinthians, Ephesians

And now we begin the 70 some page finale, "Romans." The first of my final gasps is on Wright's treatment of 1:16-17 (pp. 153-58)--"I am not ashamed of the gospel... in it the righteousness of God is revealed."

Basically, Wright supposes that if the Latin had not translated the key word righteousness with iustitia and if that had not gone into the categories of Roman thought... then "nobody would ever have supposed that the 'righteousness' in question in Romans 1.17 was anything other than God's own 'righteousness', unveiled, as in a great apocalypse, before the watching world" (154).

And if this thought had not been detached from its Jewish moorings, "nobody would have supposed that 'God's righteousness' was anything other than his faithfulness to the covenant, to Israel, and beyond that again to the whole of creation" (154).

Then Wright takes this thought and gives us a foreshadowing of the rest of the chapter, which is the playing out of his interpretation of this verse. Apart from the melodrama, I agree that the "righteousness of God" refers to His propensity to be faithful in justice and in relationship with His people and His creation. I think Wright might be okay with that last sentence of mine. But he would load the words with more meaning than I do.

This is my first dying gasp.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Paul Novel: Galatians 3

Barnabas and Paul returned to Antioch with a sense of triumph. They had left with the salvation of the Gentiles still somewhat of an experiment, a probability given what they had witnessed thus far. But they returned--Paul especially--with it established beyond reasonable doubt. God was going to save those Gentiles who confessed faith in Jesus as Lord and in God's plan through him, and God was going to do it without them needing to become Jews!

Any second guessing of Paul's calling was now gone. He had not had any appreciable success in Arabia. He had some success in Cilicia, but not nearly what he had hoped.

But Cyprus and Asia Minor had changed all that. It was his first dramatic success in the conversion of the Gentiles, especially Sergius Paulus. He had made inroads into the very household of Caesar! He was convinced that God had appointed him as apostle to the Gentiles, just as Peter was the apostle to the Jews.

All this is not to say, however, that everyone agreed. The very notion that he might be on any par with Peter seemed nothing but arrogant boasting to any who got wind of it. After all, Peter was the first disciple and the first to whom Jesus appeared risen.

John Mark had done Paul's reputation great damage when he returned to Jerusalem. He had shared Paul's Gentile-loving ways in whispered and not so whispered conversation. Paul's chummy behavior with a Roman proconsul was all the evidence anyone needed to know that Paul was simply an unprincipaled, power hungry man more full of ambition than with love for God or Israel. What business did a Jew have with such a Roman, the enemies of Israel and, indeed, those who had crucified the Lord Jesus?

Of course for every one who was genuinely outraged, there were two who were really only jealous of the power and status Paul had acquired. They would never be Roman citizens, only outcasts in the eyes of those in power. But Paul simply preached to the Gentiles more vigorously than ever.

After they returned, Paul began to think about new ways to come in contact with Gentiles, more subtle than the public preaching that almost got him killed in Arabia. It occurred to him that one of the elders at Antioch, a man called Silas, was a leatherworker, just like Paul's family back in Tarsus. Silas had a booth in the marketplace, where he sat in the morning and evening, repairing and selling various goods. Paul decided to join him and use the opportunity to bring the good news to any who might listen.

Within a day, he had his first convert, a young man of about twenty, named Titus. Titus introduced Paul to his family and within a few days his entire household became followers of the Way. They were Gentiles through and through and had never set foot in a synagogue.

Those were great days for Paul, in retrospect some of the most delightful of his life. One morning in prayer, soon after Titus' conversion, Paul understood from the Lord that he must go to Jerusalem with Titus, to show him to Peter and James. He and Barnabas would get their approval for the new phase of the gospel that God was now opening up.

They would see he was right. How could they reject Titus? It was obvious that the Holy Spirit was at work in him. God would show them. They would see that his mission to the Gentiles was simply the outworking of Jesus' ministry to sinners within Israel.

Once he had their approval, it would end once and for all the back-stabbing and grumbling about him as well. The assemblies of God would be united in purpose in a way that they had not since the earliest days. It was all so clear to Paul--to Jerusalem they must go!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Tom Wright: Justification 6

This is my review of the sixth 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.

Sorry it's taken so long. I have to work at least occasionally... :-)

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
Chapter 4: Justification: Definitions and Puzzles
Chapter 5: Exegesis of Galatians

And now, Chapter 6: "Interlude: Philippians, Corinthians, Ephesians." Only one more chapter (a biggie, Romans) and we're done.

Wright sees 3:2-11 picking up and building on the Christological poem of 2:6-11. I personally don't see this in anything but largely coincidental connections. If some people tend to see the discontinuities between things, Wright's besetting sin is probably that he sees more connections than are there. While I don't side with them, it is no surprise that some scholars think 3:2ff might have come from a separate letter to the Philippians as they seem to come out of nowhere.

I'm not sure how to summarize this section other than interesting snippets. On 3:6, "as far as righteousness according to Law, [I was] blameless." Wright agrees with Dunn that this statement includes participation in the usual means of atonement. I still agree a little more with Stendahl than them here--Paul really felt like he did a pretty good job at Law-keeping before believing on Christ.

He looks a little at 4QMMT. He thinks the question "works of law" is answering is "How can you tell in the present who will be vindicated in the future?" He nods to Sanders that this was about staying in rather than getting in. "Works of law" were thus the works "which would function as a sign in the present that he was a part of the people who would be vindicated in the future" (125).

I feel a little uneasy about this definition on the lips of Wright, because on his lips words like "people" take on loaded meanings. For me, the phrase "works of Law" for Paul did, primarily, have to do with the more "Jewish" parts and they were about being acceptable to God within the context of those already in Israel. I admit, however, that Paul can go more abstract into more generic acts of goodness.

Wright rightly sees that moral holiness is important to Paul in Philippians 3, something I have repeatedly emphasized as a reason why those in the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition should generally be friendly to the so called new perspective on Paul.

Wright looks at two passages here, 1 Corinthians 1:30 and 2 Corinthians 5:21. The first is a very general statement, "From him are you in Messiah Jesus, who became wisdom for us from God, yes, righteousness and sanctification and redemption." Wright rightly concludes that "Paul is not here trying to make a precise theological statement" (133).

As a side note, he says of sanctification that it is "in one sense their status as God's people, but is also, and more particularly, their actual life of holiness through the power of God working in them by the spirit." This would be true of the various ways Paul uses the word, although I suspect in this particular verse Paul is thinking more of their connection to God's holiness rather than their moral life.

Then he gets to the biggie: 2 Corinthians 5:21: "He made him who knew no sin to be sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God." This is one of those signature interpretations for Wright. The traditional interpretation of this verse is an interchange. Jesus had no sin and we did. Jesus had righteousness and we did not. God makes the one without sin--Jesus--to be sin and in exchange we who were with sin become the righteousness of God.

This interpretation seems so straightforward, so balanced, that when I first heard of Wright's interpretration, I scoffed at it. What is his interpretation? His interpretation is that becoming the righteousness of God is "that, in the Messiah, we might embody God's faithfulness, God's covenant faithfulness, God's action in reconciling the world to himself" (140). Gufaw, says I.

But I considered the argument and it grew on me. It grew on me for precisely the reasons Wright presents.

1) The idea of God's righteousness was not something Paul came up with. It had a history and it had a history in relation to God's relationship to His people. It referred to God's propensity not only to judge sin but also to His propensity to save His people. There is thus a bias in the language that makes a meaning consonant with this idea the most likely meaning, the default.

Just on linguistic grounds alone, then, we would expect the statement, "we become the righteousness of God" to mean that we establish concretely God's propensity to save His people and, indeed, the world.

2) Paul has indeed been talking about this subject for chapters. And he continues to talk about it. I'm reformulating Wright's arguments into my own arguments here to some extent.

Wright spends chapters talking about the ministry of reconciliation entrusted to Paul as a minister. The verses just preceding have that great verse about the ministry of reconciliation (that Wright does not think is directed at the Corinthians).

He has a few other arguments, but those two are the primary ones. He does mention the possible intertextuality with Isaiah 49:8.

This section seems somewhat of an aside to me, since Ephesians does not even use the word justification. It has the famous verse, "By grace you have been saved through faith," but it does not use Paul's characteristic language of justification by faith of Christ instead of works of law. One strength of the "new" perspective is that it has noticed this distinction for the most part. The "old" perspective, I have noticed, uses passages in Ephesians and 1 Timothy to read statements in the key letters, thus skewing them rather than letting them say what they say in their own right.

I think Wright's main point in this section is to show that soteriology and ecclesiology sit side by side in Ephesians.

On Monday, perhaps, the final review of this book, and then we're off to his Surprised by Hope with hopes to finish by Easter.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Pagan Christianity 9-10: Tithing and Sacraments

Two chapters from Frank Viola's Pagan Christianity today:

The previous posts were:

1. Viola's Preface
2. Barna's Introduction
3. The Church Building
4. The Order of Worship
5. The Sermon
6. The Pastor
7. Sunday Go to Meeting Clothes
8. Music in the Church

And now for the two chapters for today. Two more weeks and we'll be done, d.v.

Chapter 8: “Tithing and Clergy Salaries: Sore Spots on the Wallet”
As usual, Viola is half right and half extreme. The first part of this chapter has to do with tithing, the giving of a tenth of one’s income to the Lord. Underlying his position is of course the fact that he is concerned about giving one tenth to the church. He does not believe in “institutional” churches, so we would expect him to have a sharp distinction in his mind between giving to a church and giving to the Lord.

His bottom line is that “tithing, while biblical, is not Christian” (183). He is mostly right, but I think at least a quarter wrong. Is tithing biblical? Yes, he says, because we find it in the Old Testament. It is not Christian, he would say, because it is not required in the New Testament. He is right that the New Testament does not require a tithe of Gentile believers. Where he is wrong is to suggest that, for this reason, tithing is unchristian.

My problem with Viola’s interpretation is thus not that he is wrong on his read of the New Testament—for the most part at least. He is very much stuck in a naïve version of the “old perspective” on Paul, as most pop speakers like him are. Paul’s teaching on the Jewish Law is far more complex than the simple categories with which Viola operates, as our ongoing review of N. T. Wright’s book on justification shows.

So Viola is right that the Old Testament tithe was an agricultural rather than a monetary tithe. He is right that it was for Levites and the poor in general (I have serious questions about his 23.3% gig--there are probably layers of Old Testament tradition involved on these sorts of issues, where you have differing traditions about what the tithe was more than things to combine with each other). He is right that the New Testament never binds the tithe rule on Gentile believers. Jesus does affirm the Pharisees for tithing their spices in Matthew 23, but they were Jews.

The New Testament urges giving proportional to God’s blessing, but never sets an amount or a percent (e.g., 2 Cor. 9:7; 1 Cor. 16:2).

Where Viola is wrong, as always, is to jump from 1) the Bible does not require it to 2) it is wrong for a church to require it. Just as there were Nazirites who bound themselves to a different way of life, there is nothing wrong with denominations binding together into distinct identities. Paul’s principle with regard to the Sabbath was “one person considers one day above a day; another considers every day the same” (Rom. 14:5). Both need to get off the other’s back. Viola gives proportionately; Wesleyans tithe. I affirm you Viola. Get off our backs.

I might say, by the way, that I have serious doubts about statements like these, “Not a few poor Christians have been thrown into deeper poverty because they have felt obligated to give beyond their means” (179). If anything, churches struggle financially because people don’t tithe, not because everyone’s sending themselves to the poor house because they’re tithing.

The second half of the chapter is where Viola really jumps the shark. Viola’s attempt in the “delving DEEPER” section to dodge the clear implications of 1 Timothy 5:17-18 that assemblies should support their elders materially are completely unconvincing, “the worker is worth their reward.” The same in 1 Corinthians 9—a passage that Viola almost completely avoids. It is appropriate to support materially those who “tread the grain” for them.

The early church did come to have a ministry structure, and Paul admonishes churches to support these leaders materially. Indeed, Paul considers it an obligation. I'm not saying that institutional churches have a good record with money. But as usual Viola throws the baby out with the bath water.

I don't have a problem with the ministers in the house church movement who are supporting themselves. I respect and affirm them. But Viola is the one being unbiblical when he suggests they do not have a "right" to the material support of those to whom they minister, even if like Paul they do not use that right.

Paul, by the way, probably did so to avoid the strings of patronage. Viola mentions the occasional conflict of interests when you need to preach on a topic that steps on the toes of heavy contributors in the church. That situation does bear directly on Paul's practices.

Chapter 9: Baptism and the Lord's Supper: Diluting the Sacraments
The first half of this chapter is on baptism and found me wondering what Viola's background was before he went house church. I wonder if he was Disciples of Christ or Baptist because this chapter seemed to be on a slightly different traditional trajectory than some others, which have seemed much more straight Anabaptist.

First he dismisses infant baptism out of hand. I have come to prefer it. It is interesting because in some ways it would fit with Viola's community focus. In this chapter, for example, he really rejects the "sinner's prayer" (he really hates Moody for some reason). And he rejects the language of a personal relationship with Christ. There is a possible world in which Viola's emphasis on community and disdain for individualism would lead him to affirm infant baptism.

Since I'm on individualism, Viola is of course right that the sinner's prayer was invented to give people a path to becoming a Christian and is not exactly found in any one place in Scripture. And he's right that the emphasis on a personal relationship with Christ is a peculiarly contemporary American phenomenon. As usual, his delving DEEPER section (was this section in the first edition? I suspect he is answering real questions from people) is more balanced. Yes, "We certainly should make our own confessions of faith" (198).

The "diluting" of baptism for Viola is the thinking that the sinner's prayer is basically it. Interestingly--because it seems out of keeping with the trend of the rest of the book--Viola wants a person to be baptized ASAP after coming to faith. But I think he makes too much of the connection between baptism and being "saved" in the New Testament. Receiving the Spirit is the definitive marker of becoming a Christian in Acts, Paul, and Hebrews. Paul de-emphasizes the importance of the act in 1 Corinthians 1.

And again, Viola wrongly assumes that we have to do everything exactly the way the earliest Christians did. Yes, let's baptize soon after a person receives the Spirit. Immersion? Why not, I like the symbolism. Infants? I prefer it because 1) baptism does not save (1 Pet. is figurative), 2) I believe it fits the corporate formulation of identity reflected in the early church, and 3) it says our children are in the church and that we are guarding their souls until they are old enough to decide for themselves what faith path their own life will take. I will tolerate you holding our children out a three story window of faith until they are old enough to ask you to kindly let them come into the safety of the house if you will tolerate my affirmation of God's prevenient grace and predilection to save rather than to damn.

Then of course Viola gets to communion. Yes, it was originally a meal. Yes, I find the individual crackers and cups of juice highly perverse when one primary meaning of the meal is "because there is one bread, we are one body, for we all partake of the one bread" (1 Cor. 10:17). Hard to see how individual cups and wafers convey the unity of the body at all but in an American context simply reinforces the false idea that we are only in a personal relationship with Christ. The corporate dimension is primary, the personal dimension secondary. Viola is right here.

I think Viola is part right and part wrong on examining ourselves. What the Corinthians were to examine is whether they rightly discerned the body of Christ as they ate, namely, the church. Were they in proper relationship to their brothers and sisters as they partook. So it was an examination of corporate sin Paul had in mind rather than individual sin.

Nevertheless, there is a power to the abbreviated "meal" we now take that I believe God has sanctioned. What could be wrong with taking this moment, indeed many moments to examine your own life in terms of sin and righteousness? There is a place for the "pot luck," but I can't remember any that were as powerful spiritually as some moments I've had in communion.

So the eucharistic service is a development from the New Testament in some ways, but it is so powerful that I have to believe it is a God ordained one. Viola's assemblies are losing something if they abandon the possibility of God ordained "sacred moments" (sacraments) like communion where ordinary bread and juice can become catalysts for the "real" presence of Christ. Yes, he's always there. Yes, you can experience his "real" presence anywhere.

But God seems to have given this particular place and time His approval, as with baptism. And God has the right to create a thousand other "sacred moments" on the spot whenever and wherever He chooses.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Death Knoll for Mark Noll's...

... construction of fundamentalism is the Table of Contents for the volumes of The Fundamentals put out in the 1920's (thanks to Bud Bence for the list).

Dispensationalists? Yeah, I see them. Thinkers like B. B. Warfield--in whose train J. Gresham Machen, Westminster Theological Seminary, Wheaton, Fuller followed--yes, I see them.

Holiness types and Pentecostals? Nope. (I doubt the Methodist Episcopal bishop on the list would have liked to be identified with the holiness types)
History of Higher Criticism - Dyson Hague Wycliffe College (Toronto)
Mosaic Authorship of the Pentatuch – Frederick Wright - Oberlin College (!)
Fallacies of Higher Criticism – F Bettex Stuttgart, Germany
Holy Scriptures and Modern Negations – James Orr - Glasgow
Old Testament Criticism and New Testament Chistianity Griffith Thomas - Wycliffe College (Toronto)
Internal Evidence of the Fourth Gospel – Osborne Troop - Montreal
Testimony of Christ to the Old Testament William Caven – Knox College (Toronto)
Early Narratives of Genesis - James Orr
One Isaiah George Robinson - McCormick Seminary Chicago
Book of Daniel Joseph Wilson – Reformed Episcopal Seminary Philadelphia
Doctrinal Value of Genesis 1 – Dyson Hague
Pentatuch and Graf-Welhausen Craigh Robinson County Cork Ireland
Testimony to the Truth of Scripture Frederick Wright
Archeology and the Scriptures M.G Kyle Xenia (Ohio) Seminary
Science and Christian Faith James Orr
My experience with Higher Criticism J.J. Reeve Southwestern Seminary Fort Worth TX

Inspiration of the Bible James Gray Moody Bible Institute
Inspiration L.W. Manhall Germantown PA
The Glory of Jesus, Proof of Inspiration - William Moorhead Xenia Seminary
Testimony of Scriptures to the Themselves - George Bishop New Jersey
Organic Unity of the Bible Arthur Pierson
Fulfilled Prophecy Arno Gaebelein -- New York City (Founder of Christianity Today (?)
Life in the Word Philp Mauro Attorney New York
Is There a God Thomas Whitehall Kilmarnock Scotland
God in Christ - Robert Speer Presbyterian Mission Board New York
The Deity of Christ - Benjamin Warfield Princeton Seminary
Virgin Birth - James Orr
God –Man John Stock
Person and Work of Christ Bishop Nuelson Methodist Episcopal Church – Omaha NE
Bodily Resurrection of Christ R. A. Torrey
Deity of the Holy Spirit – R. A. Torrey
Holy Spirit and the Sons of God - W. Eerdman
Conversion of Paul Lord Lyttleton Cambridge
Christianity No Fable Thomas Whitelaw Kilmarnock Scotland

Biblical Concept of Sin – Thomas Whitelaw
Paul’s Doctrine of Sin Charles Williams Southwestern Baptist Seminary Fort Worth TX
Sin and Judgment to Come – Robert Anderson London
Christ’s Teaching about Future Retribution - William Proctor Croydon, England
The Atonement – Franklin Johnson - Chicago
At-One-Ment by Propitiation – Dyson Hague - St. Paul’s Cathedral, London
The Grace of God - C. I. Scofield
Salvation by Grace - Thomas (?) Spurgeon London
The Nature of Regeneration - Thomas Boston d. 1732(!)
Regeneration, Conversion and Reformation George Lasher Cincinnati
Justification by Faith H.C. Moule Bishop of Durham, England
Doctrines that Must be Emphasized in Successful Evangelism – L W Munhall, Philadelphia
Preach the Word - Howard Crosby, Chancellor of New York University, New York
Pastoral and Personal Evangelism Timothy Stone Moderator of the Presbyterian Church, Chicago
The Sunday School’s True Evangelism Charles Trumball Philadelphia
The Place of Prayer in Evangelism – R. A. Torrey Dean of BIOLA Los Angeles
Foreign Missions and World Wide Evangelism – Robert Speer Presbyterian Board of Missions
A Message from Missions – Charles Bowen Olympia, WA
What Missionary Motive Should Prevail? Henry Frost Director of China Inland Mission, Philadelphia
Consecration - Henry Frost
Is Romanism Christianity? T. W. Medhurst Glasgow, Scotland
Rome, the Antagonist of the Nation – J M Foster, Boston
The True Church - Bishop Ryle
Foreign Missions and the Providence of God Arthur Pierson
The Purpose of the Incarnation - G. Campbell Morgan Westminster Chapel – London
Tributes to Christ and the Bible by Brainy Men Not Known as Active Christians J Anonymous

Modern Philosophy - Philip Mauro
The Knowledge of God – David James Burrell Marble Collegiate Church , New York
The Wisdom of this World – A. W. Pitzer Salem VA
The Science of Conversion – H. M. Sydenstricker West Point, MS
The Decadence of Darwinism Harry Beach Grand Junction, CO
The Passing of Evolution – George Frederick Wright
Evolutionism in the Pulpit - anonymous
The Church and Socialism - Charles Eerdman
Millenial Dawn William Moorehead United Presbyterian Seminary, Xenia OH
Mormonism - R. G. McNeice Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Salt Lake City UT
Eddyism, Called Christian Science Maurice Wilson Dayton OH
Modern Spiritualism Algernon Pollock Weston, England
Satan and his Kingdom Mrs. Jessie Penn-Lewis Leicester, England
Why Save the Lord’s Day - Daniel Hoffman Martin. Glens Falls, NY
Apologetic Value of Paul’s Epistles E. J. Stobo
Divine Efficacy of Prayer Arthur Pierson
The Prayer Life of George Mueller – Arthur Pierson
The Scriptures – A. C. Dixon Pastor of Metropolitan Tabernacle, London, England
What the Bible Contains for Believers George Pentecost Darien CT
The Hope of the Church – John McNicol Toronto Bible Training School
The Coming of Christ - Charles Erdman
The Testimony of Christian Experience – President of Louisville Seminary
Personal Testimony – Howard Kelly
Personal Testimony – H W. Web-Peploe Vicar of St. Paul’s London
Personal Testimony C. T. Studd
Personal Testimony Philip Mauro
The very titles of the essays show that the pioneers of fundamentalism were engaged with modernism. They were not running away from it. That means that Noll's Foucaultian schema that largely distinquishes fundamentalist from evangelical on the basis of withdrawal and engagement is fundamentally skewed (i.e., fundamentalists=the stupid people and evangelicals=the smart ones). The fundamentalists were ideologically combative and were, overwhelmingly, Calvinist.

For those who don't know my beef here, I have argued that the roots of the Wesleyan Church are more pre-modern than anti-modern, with fundamentalism being fundamentally anti-modern. The problem is not primarily the positions the fundamentalists took. For example, I believe in the virgin birth and the divinity of Christ. The problem for me is 1) the militant, combative tone of fundamentalism and 2) the fact that fundamentalism let the modernists (in the early twentieth century sense) set the categories for their response.

Fundamentalism is thus defined by modernism as anti-modernism, its categories were defined by that which it was against. But since the categories of modernism were wrong, that means that the categories of fundamentalism are wrong.

My fundamentals
I would argue that most Wesleyans haven't even heard of most of the issues in the list above. We have our own list of what is important. Here are some of mine given where we are in history, at least for now (the lists change as we engage changes in culture). I think the Wesleyan fits well with this list and would do well to move forward with these:

1. A generous orthodoxy

Orthodox, yes. We affirm the commonly held beliefs of Christendom, the consensus of the communion of saints through the ages, always with room for reformation on the basis of Scripture as the fountain of faith and the kingdom as the trajectory of faith.

Generous, yes. God will sort out who is going to be saved and who isn't. We are charitable toward those we disagree with and with the damned. We speak truth to power in love rather than in anger. We want the world to be transformed, not destroyed. If your heart (not head) is as our heart then give us your hand. In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity.

2. A missional Christianity

God is in control, but we live as if anyone can be saved, as if they will not be saved unless we bring the good news to them, and as if salvation can be lost. This is how we live, regardless of the theological possibilities to the contrary.

We are concerned for people's souls but we are concerned for their stomachs and their marriages and their houses and their wallets. We are concerned for nations. We are concerned for the poor and the widow and the fatherless. We are concerned for God's creation and for the beauty He has created.

3. Changed lives

We have no time for a religion that doesn't do anything. People are enslaved to powers and they can be freed. If Christ does not change lives, really, then Christianity is false. If people can't been freed from their sins, then let's walk away from this thing now, it's useless. The proof is in the putting. If Christ does not actually transform the world for the better, then Christianity is false.

4. Full inclusion of all people

The age of the Spirit is the age in which things like race, status, and gender fall away as markers of importance. Those who have tricked themselves into thinking racist attitudes to be associated with Christianity because they are "conservative"--attitudes toward immigrants or toward entire groups of people different from me--have no place in the kingdom.

We wipe the dust off our feet of those enslaved to the elements of the world who resist women in all forms of ministry or who insist a numskull male with a sharp wife be the head of that particular household because he has certain genitalia. Be gone. God's kingdom knows nothing of this.

And we are responsible for those who are disempowered among us. We are responsible for their bodies whether they come to Christ or not because every human is our responsibility. Again, Christ will not separate the sheep from the goats on the basis of whether you were politically conservative or not but by what you did to the least of these.

5. Spirit-led

Culture constantly changes. Christ does not acquiesce to cultural values, but Christ engages culture. History is the story of Christians confusing the key components of Christianity with culture. The extreme examples are those who look like they are stuck at a particular point in recent history, while thinking they are stuck in the New Testament church.

The heart of the church is always moving with culture through the leadership of the Spirit. This is not the same as compromising its values. It is the very principle of incarnation principally shown in Christ but also in the way God revealed the Scriptures in history. The Spirit-led attitude will thus regularly come into tension with "conservatism," which is by definition resistance to change. True Christianity strongly resists change on its orthodoxy, and is thus fundamentally "conservative" in that regard. But in regard to the working out of its values in culture, Christianity is fundamentally on the move, "progressing" toward the kingdom.

What do you think?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Seminary Sirens

Perhaps you've heard the tale. Don't go to seminary. You'll lose your faith... or at least your vitality. Seminaries teach you useless stuff and don't really prepare you for real ministry in the real world. It's a waste of time, a waste of money. AND, you have to uproot your family and go live somewhere for three years when you could actually be DOING it!

OK, some of these things are true... or at least used to be true. And some of them certainly have been experienced that way. But let me give you my perspective on what is real here and what isn't.

1. "You have to uproot your family an go live somewhere for three years"...

False. There are still of course seminaries where that's true, but for the most part it simply isn't. You can get an MDIV at IWU, Asbury, or Bethel and never move anywhere.

2. ... "when you could actually be DOING it!"

False. The fact that you can go half time without moving anywhere means you can be "doing it" WHILE going to seminary part time. In fact, in IWU's new MDIV, you HAVE to be doing it or you can't be in our program.

3. Seminaries teach you useless stuff and don't really prepare you for real ministry in the real world.

Well, that's a matter of perception. But the fact that so many seminarians perceive it to be that way means it is certainly a reality of some sort. If the goal of teaching is learning (rather than just talking), then seminaries have apparently done a horrible job of communicating what is valuable about what they do teach. And that's a failure of a fundamental sort.

People go to college these days mostly to be able to get a job. I strongly believe college should be about much more than this, but that is the presenting itch that gets warm bodies in the seats. So most ministers would value seminary if they actually felt like it gave them the tools they needed to actually do the things that scream at them every day in the church.

Seminaries by and large, I think, do NOT typically do a very good job of scratching this itch. IWU's "seminary" has been designed to bombard the student every class not just with I CAN use this but you will actually BE USING it, with your church as the patient :-)

On the other hand, this is not to say that much of the other stuff is not useful, helpful, or even essential. The undergraduate student just looking for a job, but if we can trick them into being better thinkers, able to see things from other people's points of view, give them a sense of where we are in the flow of history and ideas, help them appreciate the blessings of humanness--these are things that make for better humanity. They are actually more important in the long run than getting a job, but they don't seem important if you are hungry.

In the same way, understanding how to read the Bible in context, what Christians have believed for 2000 years, or knowing where you stand in the flow of Christian history can prevent a load of Christian mess and disgrace. These things provide depth; they redirect misguided trajectories, they point out gaps and incomplete ministry.

So the problem is the priorities and lopsided nature of seminary education, not the elements themselves.

4. You'll lose your faith... or at least your vitality.

This was the line that brought on my title. There are some who hate seminary, not because they think it is impractical, but because they think it is spiritually dangerous, and they claim that statistics back them.

On the one hand, this is a curious line of thinking. It's as if the voices of seminary are like the sirens of the Odyssey--once you come under the spell of their singing, you can't resist them. Your ship is destined to crash on the rocks. What is this great power that seminaries have, that takes a vigorous, vibrant Christian and inevitably forces them to lose their faith?!

What great power, to take away the free will of vibrant Christians! Why these seminaries are apparently more powerful than the Holy Spirit! If we take the rhetoric seriously, the beguiling singing of seminary professors is so strong that only those who tie themselves to the mast can safely pass through the waters of Scylla and Charybdis without losing their faith!

I think there is a problem here, but the problem surely can't be what the anti-seminarians say it is. After all, if the problem is wrong ideas, then the zealots would simply tear the arguments to shreds. Surely the problem has to be that the ideas are mostly convincing, but seminaries don't do a good job of helping students grow spiritually to handle them.

My own experience of seminary was destabilizing, even though Asbury was by my accounts a very conservative place. Even Oswalt this morning reminded me of how conservative he is. Didn't the Egyptians practice circumcision? He treated circumcision as if it were invented by God just for Abraham. I thought it was (to irritate Viola) a pagan practice that God sanctified. Not my field, I could be wrong.

My thoughts on this subject are 1) the heart of the pre-seminary church is mostly right but 2) it's head usually can't go the distance. Traditional seminaries adjust the head and lose the heart. I can't come up with a more plausible explanation. And the seminaries that form their identity around fighting the ideas of the other seminaries--they're the most worthless of all for they neither train you how to do ministry nor preserve the pre-seminary heart.

The ancient-future movement, for lack of a better room, makes a space for traditional orthodoxy in a (post) modernist world. Hate the bad parts of postmodernism if you will, but the good parts have made a space for heart and head to coexist going forward. I am not now speaking of IWU's seminary... just calling it how I see it.

John Oswalt in IWU Chapel Quote

"The problem with the world is not the male genitalia."

I have come to expect these sorts of comments from Dr. Oswalt... :-) The only exact quote I remember from Old Testament Hermeneutics with him at Asbury was, "God has no penis." Having seen some of the figurines from ancient archaeology, we can make some allowances for the prevalence of such themes by an Old Testament scholar. His rhetoric on circumcizing the heart today was, to say the least, quite vivid.


In House Quote from Dunn's Galatians Commentary

"In view of a continued emphasis within Christianity on the Spirit as a second experience, subsequent to conversion (so still in classic Pentecostalism), it is important to note that Paul saw reception of the Spirit as essentially the 'beginning' of Christian discipleship" (156, on Galatians 3:3).

Of course Wesleyans believe this as well... I just never really heard the Spirit preached in any way but in regard to entire sanctification until seminary. Despite my quarrels with Asbury and my enthusiasm for IWU's new kind of seminary, I would give Asbury the primary credit for lifting the maturity and depth of the Wesleyan Church into something recognizable by the broader church these last fifty years. For that I thank it.


By now everyone's heard that AIG, recipient of billions in the bailout, is paying millions in bonuses to the very department that caused its financial collapse. They're arguing that they legally have to pay them because of contracts made before their collapse... and they're arguing again that without paying these sorts of bonuses, they won't be able to retain the best.

Looks like there's little the rest of us can do but vent on this one. Even the Obama administration's hands seem tied by deals made by the Bush administration on this one. My predictable thoughts--apparently the "best and brightest" didn't do so hot these last years. I bet there are plenty of equally smart people looking for a job who'd be more than happy to take their jobs without the bonus. Frankly, I like teaching and writing, but give me two months in a room with the appropriate resources...

Of course many unlikely thoughts come to mind. Liquidate this "credit default swap" department and send all these bonus unworthy fools packing. Fire anyone who takes the bonus, etc...

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Chesterton on Italians: Quote for the Day...

... and dutifully taken out of context:

"Not all Italians are vivacious organ-grinders."

Explanatory Notes: 1 Timothy 1:8-11

1:8-11 Now we know that the [Jewish] Law is good, if someone uses it lawfully, knowing this, that the Law is not intended for the righteous, but for the lawless and un-submissive, for the ungodly and sinners, the unholy and profane, for those who murder their fathers and mothers, for murders, the sexually immoral, practitioners of homosexual sex, human traffickers, liars, those who swear falsely, and if there is something else in opposition to sound teaching in accordance with the good news of the glory of the blessed God, with which I was entrusted.

This is a fascinating list of vices and at the same time a quite different approach to the Law than is found in the Pauline writings elsewhere. First, it agrees with Paul's sentiment in Romans 7:12 that the Jewish Law is holy and the commandment holy, righteous, and good. In Romans 7:14 Paul indicates that the Law is spiritual. Another point of agreement is that Paul uses the tenth commandment not to covet as his example of a commandment in Romans 7:7. Here in 1 Timothy, the examples of law-breaking seem to relate fairly directly to the Ten Commandments.

For example, the first six vices or so relate fairly well to matters relating to the proper worship of God, as do the initial commandments. The mention of murderers of fathers and mothers relate to the commandment to honor one's parents. The mention of murderers proper, various forms of sexual immorality, and slave trading relate to the commands not to kill, commit adultery, or steal. Finally, the comment on liars and perjurers relates directly to bearing false witness.

The sentiment of these verses seems to be that the Law is intended to restrain the practice of sin. Those who do not sin or violate these laws are thus not people for whom the Law need be a concern. The false teachers, on the other hand, emphasized stories relating to the stories of the Pentateuch and something relating to genealogies somehow connected to the Pentateuch. These spin offs on the Law were of no concern, Paul/1 Timothy says. If you are living righteously, the Law is not something you should be troubled by.

The contrast between this approach to the Jewish Law and Paul's approach in letters like Galatians and Romans is striking. Some who affirm a close relationship between 1 Timothy and Paul have even suggested one of Paul's coworkers might have had a greater hand in the writing than Paul gave to his coworkers in other instances. The key differences are 1) that Paul elsewhere seems to affirm that all are sinners, 2) that the Law functions to point this fact out to both Jew and Gentile, and 3) that the Law pertains to the epoch prior to Christ so that Christ's coming now signals the end of the Law's function.

By contrast, on the one hand, 1 Timothy has the more typical Jewish division between the righteous and sinners as those who do good and those who break the Law. On the other hand, the way in which 1 Timothy defines the Law is very de-ethnicized. In other words, a Jew would typically have defined righteousness with at least some mention of what we now think of as the ethnic particulars of the Law, things like circumcision, Sabbath observance, and the food laws. Paul's discussions of the Law elsewhere reflect this fact in a negative sense--he defines righteousness as not being based on these things and thus not based on Law. The Jewish definition thus underlies Paul's new sense of the Law's significance.

The list of vices in 1 Timothy is thus at the same time more and less Jewish than Paul elsewhere. It is like Paul elsewhere in that the Law is largely considered irrelevant for believers. But it is considered irrelevant for different reasons. In Paul's other writings it is irrelevant because it applies to a past epoch. In 1 Timothy it is irrelevant because believers do not break it. None of these shifts in language contradict the substance of Paul's writings elsewhere. It is only the differences in the conceptual framework, imagery, and language that is strikingly different.

The mention of "sound teaching" signals another of the major shifts between the other writings of the Pauline corpus and the pastoral epistles. Paul does use the word teaching elsewhere, but nowhere with the significance it has in the pastorals. We should think of the pastoral epistles as a deposit of Paul's teaching which he is bequeathing to his heirs.